Every holiday we greet each other with chag sameach, meaning “happy holiday,” but this year, Passover was truly a time for rejoicing, as my law school professor and current state Sen. Jamie Raskin won the Democratic primary in Maryland’s eighth congressional district, positioning him well to become our next congressman in November.
It was a fierce battle. Despite being heavily outspent by David Trone, a multimillionaire wine retailer from Potomac who poured more than $12 million of his own money into his campaign, Raskin won because of his proven experience as a state legislator and a grassroots movement of people from all walks of life. Another competitor, former news anchor and Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews, also raised millions of dollars from deep-pocketed donors and poured more of her personal wealth into the race, but she only came in third.
Liberal, grassroots activism beat the Big Money politics. I know because I was there.
More than 1,500 volunteers knocked on doors, placed calls and organized town hall meetings about gun violence and gun safety, family economic security and reversing climate change.
More than 11,500 people contributed their hard-earned money to our campaign, giving Raskin the means of self-defense in what might be the most expensive congressional race in American history.
Regardless of the results, I would have been proud of my small contributions, canvassing and Election Day monitoring, but how much more so now that the entire movement achieved a great success!
Raskin understands so well that our government, as President Abraham Lincoln famously said, is “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Indeed, he opened his victory speech by saying, “In America, elected officials are not masters of the people. They are the agents and servants of the people, and I will never ever forget that!”
In the election night party which I attended, I was happy to find a table labeled with “only kosher for Passover.” I had even brought a few kosher for Passover items with me (thinking that just my son Niv and I will eat them) but was then pleasantly surprised to find that table. I put my few snacks on it and shared them with anyone who wanted Passover food.
It’s not about having something to eat. We could easily have passed over (pun intended) the idea of snacking, as we were so thrilled with the atmosphere and the results. But it symbolized to me a celebration of our tradition together with a commitment to diversity.
Having that table in such a culturally diverse audience showed that commitment to one’s religious identity need not be a “closing of the ranks” amidst an exclusive club atmosphere, but can be done while mingling and celebrating with all the diverse members of our community.
Looking around at the party, you would have seen such a diverse audience, with representatives of all races, ethnicities and cultures schmoozing with each other. At the same time, as a traditional Jew, I was able to proudly keep my Passover tradition, making it another moment to be proud to be a part of something so special.
This symbolized for me a profound idea, namely that liberalism is not an erasure of cultural identities in the name of equality, but a creating of a huge tent that accommodates and celebrates our different identities.
Separation of church and state is so fundamental to American society, but that doesn’t mean that one needs to hide or play down his religious identity. Indeed, freedom of religion and religious liberty are two sides of the same coin: We must make everyone — Muslim, Christian, atheist and others — feel at home in our political environment. At the same time, we must be vigilant to prevent the state from sponsoring or preferring one religion over others, or being involved in religion at all.
Shamai Leibowitz lives in Silver Spring.