Relationships: Isn’t It Time 10

This episode of Isn’t It Time looks at the topic of relationships within the early Exodus narrative and in undoing oppression..

Isn’t It Time, Episode 10

Podcast Transcript

The previous episode explored teachings from a rabbi who lived through the Third Reich in Germany. Rabbi Jacob Benno argued that, in the Exodus story, “only a systematically encouraged hate propaganda was able to change” personal friendships between ordinary Yisraelites and Miztrayimites. In strong contrast, Rabbi Daniel J. Moskovitz, a contemporary rabbi, wrote a few years ago about “hatred always there just below the surface, waiting for the opportunity to arise.”

Rabbi Moskovitz’s remarks are focused on lines early in Exodus:

Now there arose a new king over Mitzrayim, who did not know Joseph. And he said unto his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Yisrael are too many and too mighty for us…’
— Exodus 1:8-9

This commentary asks:

Does the text mean to suggest that it was the memory of Joseph that had kept the [Yisrael-ites] safe from oppression in [Mitzrayim]? In other words, was the hatred always there just below the surface, waiting for the opportunity to arise?
–“Pharaoh Didn’t Know Joseph,”
commentary provided by Union for Reform Judaism, at MyJewishLearning

This set of questions contrasts deeply with Rabbi Benno Jacob’s view: Here, in place of an active force promoting hate, an active force is required to keep it at bay — and it seems this force could be centered on an individual. In Genesis, Joseph’s relationship to Mitzrayim-ite life looms much larger than that of his brothers, and he is presented as a bridge between his extended family and the surrounding culture.

But, is it possible that Joseph was the only link between the two groups? Or that his role was so crucial that all collapsed without him?

Attributing all that power to one person makes Joseph seem reminiscent of an organized crime leader or “the Boss” of a political patronage machine. Is R’ Moskovitz suggesting that Joseph, or his memory, kept a lid on intergroup animosity through doling out of protection, jobs, and essential resources?

This is not inconsistent with Joseph’s story in Genesis. And it’s not inconsistent with contemporary PR strategies, relying on one big name with known ties to a particular group for entrée to a whole community or to signal “understanding” after some kind of harm has occurred….Visiting Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem with Rev. Al Sharpton, or joining a high-profile Passover Seder come to mind….

The effect of single impressions on public opinion cannot be dismissed. Beyond optics, though, what is the power of a single relationship in inter-group understanding?

One relationship can provide some education, illuminating past harm and helping to avoid further hateful incidents…although that’s asking a lot of an individual who has experienced harm….One relationship can serve some conflict-calming functions, helping to keep misunderstanding and anger from snowballing.

But, can a single relationship — or even a bunch of them — reduce the kind of endemic hatred that R’ Moskovitz suggests is “always there just below the surface”? And what, if any, impact can individual relationships have on systemic racism and oppression?


Earlier this week, I participated in a #HandsOffDC action organized by Harriets Wildest Dreams, DC for Democracy, and a coalition of more than 40 organizations seeking to protect the little self-governance DC residents currently have.

We took turns going into the office of Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who is moving to overturn some basic DC police and criminal code reforms as part of a racist attempt to frame our city as ungovernable and soft on crime.

Frankie Seabron, a third-generation Washingtonian, spoke as part of the HandsOffDC action. Here are her remarks as quoted by the Washington Post:

“Your offices are here, but y’all don’t know nothing about what really happens in D.C. Y’all don’t know nothing about the city. Y’all don’t know nothing about our communities, y’all don’t know about our struggles and what we go through…This is another thing that y’all don’t need to have your hands in. So tell Clyde to keep his hands off my city.”
“At Georgia lawmaker’s office, statehood advocates say ‘hands off DC’”
by Ellie Silverman, March 21, 2023

[Audio is shared from Frankie Seabron herself speaking; full clip below]

The action on March 21 was organized as an opportunity for Rep Clyde to hear directly from folks who actually live in the city and have first-hand experiences with our laws, given that he claims to be so interested in safety within our town. In a sense, it’s an attempt to form a kind of relationship with this Congressman who was elected for the first time in 2020 and does not live full time in DC.

If he or his staff members were actually paying any attention, what kind of impact might this have?

More generally, and returning to our commentary on Joseph and the Book of Exodus, how do individual relationships relate to oppression?

Leaving aside for the moment the complex relationship of hate to oppression —

  • Can a single relationship — or even a bunch of them — influence the kind of endemic hate suggested here?
  • Can a single relationship — between particular political or community leaders, for example — help to control hate-based behaviors?
  • What, if any, impact can individual relationships have on systemic oppression?
  • Meanwhile, what it is the cost of maintaining those relationships?

Subscribe here or through podcasting apps and consider signing up for the Isn’t It Time discussion platform at Thinkific.

This is Virginia Avniel Spatz saying: “Isn’t It Time to Reread Exodus?” and “Hands Off DC.” Peace


Washington Post article — available through DC Public Library and many local libraries in case paywall prevents access.

Twitter Clip of Frankie Seabron at Rep. Clyde’s office

Parallel story unfolding in Chicago and elsewhere. See, e.g., Black Wall Street Times, “Chicago mayoral hopeful: “woke” teaching leads to criminal behavior” by Nate Morris

SUPPORT Harriets Wildest Dreams, DC Justice Lab and the whole coalition

Published by vspatz

Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

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