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Student Views

At Pesach, I ask myself 'what is my Egypt?'

Asha Sumroy is one of the JC's regular student bloggers for 2017-18. She is studying at Durham University.

    I’ve spent months waiting to be free. Since I went back to university after Christmas I’ve been trapped by a ridiculous amount of work. Every time I went for a drink with my friends it was never without a nagging sense of guilt, stress, panic at the back of my mind - even when I was working I couldn’t shake the feeling of the next essay looming over me. 

    When I finally walked back through my front door at home I was so relieved.

    Not just to be able to have a proper shower without negotiating the varying time tables of the 7 other people who live on my corridor, or to actually be able to cook myself a meal instead of eating the college’s variation of mass-cooked potato for that day, but to actually be able to just lie on my bed with a clear head. To finally be free of that insidious sense that I ought to be doing anything other than just being. 

    Fast forward a week to now: I’m lying on a balcony overlooking a Caribbean bay, the sun’s setting behind the masts of seven yachts and the wind in the palm trees, if I close my eyes, sounds like rain in an English spring (except the birds’ song is ever so slightly different to that familiar British dawn, and its 30 degrees). It sounds nothing less than idyllic, I know. But, I do not feel free. 

    I will probably be sitting exactly here in a few days time when most Jewish families around the world are having their Pesach Seder, to remember the suffering of the Israelites as slaves in Egypt, their eventually being freed by pharaoh and then being led by Moses through the desert for 40 years - to the land of Israel. 

    At Pesach last year a friend of mine, having written her thoughts and feelings on the question, asked me ‘What is your Egypt?’. And it’s actually a question that has come into my head a lot over the last year. I think this is mainly because what she wrote about her Egypt was such a sensitive discussion of relative struggle; acknowledging the innate privilege of even being able to ask oneself that question and yet still acknowledging the ways in which we may feel oppressed - by society, by others in our lives, by ourselves. 

    And so, I ask myself now, what is my Egypt? What is it that means I’m sitting here still feeling trapped? Well, right now, my Egypt is the fact that the assignments haven’t stopped just because term time has; it’s the fact that, actually, whilst I am studying a degree that I care about, I am not pursuing my dream; it’s that there are still too many people who I love who I’ve been promising a phone call to for months; it’s that urgent sense that I should be spending as much time as I possibly can with my family and leaving my phone in the room when we go for dinner; and it’s the overwhelming knowledge that as an extremely privileged person, I should be doing so much more to make changes in a world that oppresses so many. 

    Reading that back now (as I often do when writing these blogs, which are undoubtedly a strangely public self-processing method) I realise that the prominent examples in my head are not based on the things in my life for which I am genuinely oppressed - for example, for being a woman. I feel trapped by having responsibility - to myself, to others in my life and to society. I’ve spent months waiting to be free, but I now realise I had equated freedom with lack of responsibility. 

    This, to me, is why Passover is such an important Jewish festival - it explicitly teaches, year after year, that we were once oppressed and as such we now have a responsibility. Not just towards those who are oppressed today, but a responsibility of treatment towards all people, including ourselves. 

    Drinking the last mouthful of my black coffee just now I thought to myself, if my freedom tasted of anything it would taste of coffee. The same coffee I drank at school, that I drink whilst I write essays for university, that I drink with friends over good news and bad, that I drink with the other leaders in my youth movement as we work to empower youth to change the world and that I will wake up tomorrow and drink again. And I guess what I mean by that is, I am free - and always have been. And that privilege of freedom demands continually choosing to take responsibility, especially when it’s easier not to. 

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