The upcoming holiday of Passover is the most celebrated of all the Jewish holidays. It is the time of year that Jewish people ranging from the unaffiliated to the most observant gather with their families to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt. At our seders we all will eat matzah and maror, and dip celery in salt water. We will remind ourselves about the sweat and tears of the slaves mixed with hope and rebirth that comes along with the spring season and our journey through the desert to the land of Israel.
It is a time that we all come together to celebrate a shared past and look forward to our future as free people. As we read the Haggadah, we feel the connection to all that has come before us in Jewish history and we feel our obligations to the Jewish future. We praise God for all that God has done for the Jewish people in ancient times and through today’s modern miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel. When we say “Next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the seder, we know that it is no longer a yearning or an aspiration. It is now a reality, which we can experience any time we like, this year, next year, or some other time.
So, then, why is it that as soon as the story is told and the matzah ball soup is served so many Jewish people forget about our shared history and return to the divisiveness of the present? Our ancestors never could have dreamed about a country with the strength, technology, humanity, openness, and compassion that is the modern State of Israel. Yet so many Jewish people are so quick to point fingers at this nation and accept a narrative coming from others, who are bent on our destruction.
I am struggling to understand the cause of this.
Is it that we are embarrassed by our success? Can Jewish people be content only when we are victims? If that is the case, and as a result of this thinking Israel does not continue to flourish and remain strong, many of us who don’t support the Jewish state may inadvertently cause all of the Jewish people to return to a victim-like status. We can never forget our past, nor can we allow ourselves to be played by the distortions of the truth about the settlements and their role in the lack of a peace process. Settlements may not be something everyone supports — and there is definitely room in our Jewish family for disagreements. But as Jewish people we are only safe and secure when we are united and respect each other’s differences of opinion.
We need not look at every wart on the policies and the actions of the state of Israel and turn it into a terminal disease. Israel should be held to a high standard — it is a country born from a moral past and based in Torah. However, it cannot be held to a standard that no other people or country, the United States included, ever could meet. And Israel requires acceptance and understanding, in the way we accept all the different members of our family who sit around our seder table. Although we don’t agree with all of them, we provide them with love and support, not disrespect and contempt.
So this Passover, before you bite into that first matzah ball and forget about the reason you are there at the seder, you may want to answer the following modern Four Questions:
1. Why are Jewish people different than all other people? Are we not entitled to our own homeland, and to defend it from those who would annihilate us in every generation?
2. Why are Israel’s failings so significant that the rest of the world is looking to boycott, divest from, and sanction it, while looking away from the atrocities committed by others in the names of their religions and nationalism?
3. Why do I, as a Jewish person, not feel a stronger connection to all Jewish people wherever they may be in the world, not just those that look like me, pray and observe as I do, and live near me?
4. Why do I speak the words of Exodus, about what God did for me, without assuming the obligation of acting consistent with my responsibilities to God and the Jewish nation through words, deeds, and tzedakah?
If you can answer these questions, or even discuss them at the seder, we will have come a long way toward healing the divisions within our people. It is a truth that without a strong and committed diaspora Jewish community, Israel’s future is not assured. It is also a truth that without a strong Israel and a cohesive Jewish people, the continued viability of the diaspora Jew is not assured either.