Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Making of a Meaningful Passover Seder

Part I

For years, one of the arguments used as a justification for affirmative action has been "diversity."  Academic institutions have incorporated race and other such factors into their admission decisions, claiming that such practices are necessary to advance the cause of education.  

Truthfully, I've always felt that race was a rather shallow and imprecise way of ensuring diversity of viewpoint and robust classroom discussion.  Here is a description of the reasons for my discomfort: I very strongly agree with the assertion that diversity of opinion is vital to an educational environment.  Further, I agree that academic institutions are more than justified, perhaps obligated, to promulgate diversity of viewpoint and experience through their admissions processes.  Where I have trouble is in the use of race as a primary factor in establishing diversity of viewpoint.  If we are truly seeking to live in a society that is color-blind, as Martin Luther King Jr. so strongly and passionately articulated, why should we presume that people will have varied opinions on the basis of race.  While it is in fact true that racial identification does correlate with political, social, religious, and other beliefs, by using race as the indicator, we further the notion that there are inherent differences in human beings which can be fairly judged (or at least assumed for the purposes of admission) based on race. 

Rather, college admissions might be better off asking for candidates to describe their background, family, and upbringing, describing how it has shaped their political, religious, and social views.  Diversity of experience, background, and opinion are all incredibly important; why not ask about these things directly, rather than through the intermediary guise of race?  I truly believe that by using race as the overwhelming criteria, we continue to foster prejudices and do ourselves a disservice, however well-intentioned.  

Part II

I expect that many of you will voice various concerns or disagree with sections of what I wrote above.  That's expected, and the point of a blog.  This section is the main point I wanted to make; the above is just a related thought. 

This year, I was incredibly fortunate, and my wife and I were able to host incredible and meaningful sedarim at our house.  What made the nights special was largely the people who attended, their participation, sincerity, enthusiasm, and diversity.  While all of us were of one race (as best I could tell), there was tremendous diversity present.  Some were college students, some high school students, others children.  We had adults at various stages of their lives.  We had Republicans, Democrats, Independents, a variety of religious outlooks and denominations, and more.  What this led to was productive, meaningful, and inspiring dialogue all grounded in the text of the Haggadah and the Passover rituals we hold so dear.  

Many people approached me this year and inquired as to what they might do to have a more meaningful seder.  At the time, I wasn't sure.  Now, I'd say that the one of the most important things is to make a concerted effort to invite people from different walks of life.  It certainly enhanced my holiday, and made it one of the most meaningful in recent memory.   

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