Just days ago, Latinos and Jews gathered to celebrate freedom at the annual Latino-Jewish Seder. These two groups of people came together, in a spirit of acceptance and in a setting of goodwill, to share a meal and discuss issues of mutual interest.
Just as at a seder in one's home, guests heard and participated in the telling of the Passover story.
For six years, The American Jewish Committee's (AJC) Phoenix regional chapter has been joining with local Latino leaders to commemorate the exodus from slavery to liberty as a means to elevate the dreams and hopes of both communities for a better and a more compassionate world. Both distinctly ethnic communities share a history of struggle and of aspirations for equality, justice and peace. The annual seder captures these values and feelings with gusto and good food.
To be sure, there's more to this gathering: a belief that both communities see meaning in building a strong and enduring relationship.
In Arizona, we are fortunate to have leaders in both communities who work to advance Latino-Jewish relations. Two leaders who have a passionate determination to advocate for civil rights and the common good are David Bodney, an attorney who previously served on the local Anti-Defamation League board and is a current AJC board member; and Danny Ortega, also an attorney and currently the board chairman for the National Council of La Raza.
David, a Jew, and Danny, a Latino, are two men who are the embodiment and personification of the biblical writing in Isaiah, "Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged." Each man does his part to stand up for the rights of individuals who are marginalized and maligned. Each man believes there is value in nurturing a bond between the Latino and Jewish communities.
"We have a historical connection with a shared similarity of facing negativity and hatred," says Ortega. "Forging a good relationship and having experienced hate makes us natural brothers."
For his part, Bodney believes, "There's been too much distance and not enough shared identities and values between both communities." He maintains that, "We are brothers and sisters in a web of life together."
Each man, in his own way, makes the case for fostering interaction between Latinos and Jews. An active, ongoing partnership of both communities would represent a unique strength of wisdom and an affirmation of hope. The exchange of ideas, as well as the many lessons learned from both sides, would significantly broaden the scope of leadership for both communities.
As we prepare for the sharing of matzah and wine at our tables this Passover, all of us are called to remember - actually, we are commanded - not to oppress the stranger. Let's find the way forward to keep this commandment alive by reaching out, across both communities, and making a commitment for the cause of human rights.
I recall the words recently written by Rabbi Andrew Straus of Temple Emanuel: "We must remember we were all strangers; we have all been immigrants; we must not oppress the stranger."
Years ago, and due to good fortune, I had the privilege of introducing Raol Yzaguirre, the former leader of the largest national Latino advocacy organization in America, as the keynote speaker at AJC's annual meeting. He spoke on the necessity for Jews and Latinos to bridge their relationship and to harness the potential for real and lasting common ground.
Raol inspired me. And today, the good deeds by David Bodney and Danny Ortega move me to have confidence that in the near future Latinos and Jews will be strangers no more.
In the end, positive relations between Latinos and Jews comes down to what Raol says, in plainspoken language: "We need each other."
It's a sentiment best captured by the Mishkan T'filah, "There is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together."
Carlos Galindo-Elvira is a board member of the Phoenix Regional Chapter of the American Jewish Committee.