“Had G-d not taken us out of Egypt, then we, our children, and grandchildren would have been enslaved to Pharaoh.” – Haggadah
Every year on Pesach we read this passage, and yearly, as if by clockwork, we question it. Can I really be told to believe that after two thousand years, we would still be enslaved? The Maharal of Prague explains the passage, and in turn, brings new light onto the entire seder experience. He explained that the Exodus didn’t just take the Jew out of slavery; it gave the Jew the ability to get the slavery out of him. Throughout the entire travel through the desert, despite countless miracles, many Jews still wanted to return to Egypt. Slavery had, in a manner of speaking, become a part of their identity. The true Exodus didn’t occur when they left the Egyptian border, rather it was state of mind that each person had to reach independently.
I believe that the time has come to ask ourselves the same question, but with a modern twist. As I walk through the streets of Yerushalayim, as I speak to colleagues and friends, I wonder if we are plagued with the same illness. As a collective we have escaped the horrors of Eastern European anti-Semitism, but we took a bit of the shtetl with us on the way out. The relentless barrage of pogroms, ghettos, segregation, and hate has embedded within the Jewish psyche a tendency to isolate ourselves. It became a battle of existence: us or them. Many are quick to quote the famous passage, “Ve’Esav sonah es Yaakov – And Esau hated Jacob” to prove biblically that anti-Semitism is more than just a part of being a Jew, it is an intrinsic part of the Jew.
Besides for the historical inaccuracies, (for a detailed analysis of how anti-Semitism wasn’t always a prevalent issue I would recommend reading “Jews, God, and History” by Max Dimont), we confine ourselves every time we cry out “anti-Semite”. We do not allow for candid discussion, we hinder intersocietal cooperation, and in turn, suppress any form of real growth.
Does Anti-Semitism still exist throughout the world today and is it the cause of much criticism to Israel? The answer is an overwhelming, undeniable yes. However, does that mean anytime anyone criticizes Israel we are allowed to slowly retreat back to our corner of self-righteous absolution? More often than not, consciously or not, many of us are saying yes.
“The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.” Perhaps many of us are pulled to use the anti-Semitism card because we feel the Jews have enough criticism. Perhaps, like an overprotective mother, we are unable to see fault in our kids. Blinded by the instinctive nature to protect our own, we disregard any of our own wrongdoings. However, history tells us it is precisely our propensity to criticize ourselves that has made us into the nation we are today. Time after time, whether the adversity came internally or from outward sources, we have always questioned our own status quo.
The entire Oral Torah being documented, most rabbinic commandments, one can even say the existence of the State of Israel, is all due to Jewish innovativeness and progression. True love isn’t ignoring any flaws; it’s accepting them and growing from them, because we know we are capable of more.
We have to acknowledge our wrongdoings and strive to rectify them. We have become a country that has an overwhelming bias against others; whether it be Arabic, Ethiopian, or the like. We are a country that created a parasite of extremism that lead to a baby being burned to death in Duma (or if not that exact case, many similar attempts and acts of arson).
I stand here condemning these acts, not as a self-hating Jew, but as a proud Jew. As a strong supporter and believer of Israel, I do not and will not allow our previous experiences to be used as an excuse to justify our actions. It is because I will not let history dictate my future, let others define me, that I call out these atrocities and shout ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ in the same breath.