This is more than a pre-Passover history lesson. It’s a modern-day revival of an age-old story that is relevant throughout the ages. And now the Israel Museum has created a beautiful, fascinating in depth experience right here in Jerusalem, capital of modern-day Israel, the Jewish homeland.
As tour guides, we often search for ways to bring the ancient into the present. Here, it’s all laid out for you — you’ll find that you begin to immerse yourself in the lives and drama of each pharaoh, as his unique personality shapes the fate of his generation. Who believed in uniting under one sun God? Who was attentive to the requests of his local rulers far away? Which pharaoh is the Napoleon of Egypt, and who lived in the time of the Jewish release from bondage?
And all this, from the perspective of the residents of the Land of Canaan — whose city-states were run by local rulers and various sea-peoples, along with a Semitic group names the Apiru. With Hebrew-sounding names and customs, these may be the early Israelites. The pharaohs took care to highlight their victories over these Canaanites, portraying them falling in battle and taken captive.
You must see it to believe it. Rooms full of ancient Egyptian artifacts, maps, and beautiful original coloring on statues and wall paintings. Truly historic. And seemingly foreign.
Yet back at the Nile, our story as a nation begins by being immersed in Egyptian culture, in its people and ways, for centuries. Our Jewish ancestors took local names, customs, growing close to the population even as we were slaves. Our leaders grew up in the royal houses. Our outer appearances must have been one and the same. Yet we retained the vision that one day we would be free, as a nation, in a land of our own.
Wandering through the rooms, you travel back in time, through the pharaohs’ vast empires, their treatment as deities and personal goals laid out for the passing gawker. Academics may question the historic roots of the biblical tale. But our Bible gives us enough detail to know that this seminal event, as dwellers in the land of Egypt released by the power of our one God, is basic to a belief in our future as well.
In short: Think of it as a gift to yourself, a well-deserved break after preparing for the holiday; an important visit to the roots of Egypt and Israel coinciding with the holiday marking the exodus from slavery – to the celebration of our becoming a nation.
And perhaps we can all bring this message to our seder table: One of unabashed pride in truly being — unapologetically — a free nation in our own land.
The writer is a licensed tour guide with a passion for political action.