The holiday of Passover will soon be upon us. At Seders around the world, gatherers will read and reenact the story of the exodus from Egypt and share tales of their own personal experiences. In this way, the power of the Seder is in reconnecting with the foundational experience of escaping persecution and setting out on the long and winding path toward freedom. The fundamental premise upon which the United States was founded and the very notion that now fragments us as a society.
The Book of Exodus powerfully recalls how the Pharaoh denied the Israelites the right to worship as they chose. With the future of America’s commitment to being a place where everyone–no matter who you are, how you worship, where you’re form, the color of your skin, or whom you choose to love– can live, work, and worship freely dangerously in question, the story of Passover could not be more poignant.
Amidst a growing culture of disunity, discord and division, I ran for office on the notion of inclusivity and understanding. The concept that everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect. As a Greek American, I often speak of the Greek word “philoxenia,” which, literally translated, means “friend to a stranger.”
Having been raised on this basic principle of love and compassion for our fellow human beings, it is frustrating to see how we as a society have lost our way in treating one another in this age of civic discourse. We are plagued by a strain on civility and ached by a frayed sense of community. And whether you look at our national political crisis or even someplace much closer to home, divisiveness continually threatens to tear apart the bonds of humanity that unite all together.
As the national media continues its focus on “conflict news,” it’s incumbent upon us, as a community, to change the narrative and confront these forces of intolerance. To frame a story that says that no matter how much we disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable, and that no matter where we find ourselves on the political spectrum, we are all equal citizens of this world.
As part of my commitment to rebuilding our civic foundation, I recently launched an effort focused on volunteerism that challenges members of our community to perform 3 hours of volunteer work each week. Sweeping a neighbor’s front yard one morning. Joining your child’s PTA. Volunteering at a food kitchen. Speaking out at a community event. There are no acts of service too big or too small. All that matters is that we serve a purpose greater than ourselves.
Initiative like these bring us together with a shared sense of purpose and mission; rebuilding the sacred bonds of trust that we’ve lost. I firmly believe that when we create a culture anchored by positive interactions, we will have also cultivated an outlook that contributes to a social environment that nurtures the well-being of all.
This year, let us all be reminded of the fundamental values that make our country truly great and work toward a better tomorrow enlightened by the biblical hospitality reflected in the Passover Seder, mirrored in the Greek notion of philoxenia.
Elected in 2018, Andrew Gounardes represents District 22 in the New York State Senate, which includes the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Homecrest, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, as well as portions of Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, and Midwood.