A mixed multitude - עֵרֶב רַב - left Egypt alongside the Israelite people. While sometimes used as a term for a rabbinical student, this phrase is a reflection on the Jewish community we want to create.
In the biblical text it is unclear who the erev rav (Exodus 12:38) is, and so our imaginations and our commentators fill in the gap. Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut thinks that these were the poor and downtrodden in Egypt, seeking to escape the harsh climate and make their way to a better future along with the Israelite nation. I like the idea that when one minority group is enfranchised, it raises everyone else along with them.
Rabbi Ruth Adar teaches that many commentators see these 'outsiders' as future 'insiders' or as individuals who are righteous without joining the Jewish people. And she points out that there are others who naturally look on the erev rav - those who are different, with suspicion. She writes, "The pshat [plain reading] of this text is that we have never been homogenous. Even in the mad dash through the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds), there were dark faces and light faces, Egyptian names and Hebrew names. When the waters parted, we held hands and we ran - together."
In our community conversation on 16 January, we will talk about both growing our community, and about recognising those who have tied their fate to that of the Jewish People, even if they haven't yet formally joined us, and I hope you will join for these conversations and to share your thoughts.
We each have friends and family who gather around our Shabbat tables and the tables of our loved ones, who we know have different Jewish experiences than our own - or little Jewish experience as of yet. I hope that on this Shabbat as we think of our ancestors leaving Egypt, we take extra care to imagine everyone who is walking along with our community as part of our People's ongoing sacred journey.