Jack Cohen

An alternative Exodus

The problem with Pesach/Passover is that we know the story in advance. Not only that, but we are required to repeat the same story every year. It never changes, year after year – boring! I think to make the Seder more interesting we should introduce an element of of surprise, we need an alternative narrative of the Exodus.

When we first landed in the USA in 1967 and spent our first Pesach in the Washington DC area, we were young and naieve, so we decided to go for the second Seder to what was billed as an “alternative Seder” at George Washington University. We had two small kids, and we thought this would be exciting for them. This Seder was organized by Arthur Waskow, a very left-wing Jewish activist, and we expected some political overtones, but boy were we surprised. First of all everyone sat on the floor of a big hall, and the food was brought around on paper plates, second we were handed an “alternative haggadah” that was full of speeches and left-wing articles. The ceremony itself was very flexible with happenings, songs and dramatic readings of speeches. I realized that we were out of our depths when the emcee introduced a black sanitation worker who hectored the audience (for that was what we had become) about the evils of Jewish exploitation and Zionism. Suddenly a naked man came out and danced around through the audience. Well that was more than enough, we grabbed our kids and left abruptly.

So I don’t mean that kind of alternative Seder that was popular in the 1960’s. No something more sedate, in keeping with the tone of the ceremony, but with an alternative story, something a bit more imaginative. I have a small example here. Let’s say the Israelites are leaving Egypt and they are being pursued by the Egyptians in their chariots, and as they are racing along the spirit of the Lord enters their minds, and when they see the poor fleeing Hebrew slaves they take pity on them and come and sit down and eat a meal with them, and everybody is happy together. No miraculous separation of the Red Sea, no drownings. Then when the Israelites enter into the desert they see what appears to be a mirage ahead of them and as they approach they see that it’s a milk bar, with a big sign advertizing “God’s slurpees.” And they line up patiently and each one receives a free technicolor slurpee and a crisly pizza, that in future become the required food for Pesach, in place of that dreaded tasteless matzo.

Then they come to a junction and they see a sign reading one way to “Promised Land #1” and other other to “Promised Land #2” Moses fearing a trick, decides that they should follow the signs to #2 and miraculously they see ahead of them a city in the desert and as they approach they see that it is Los Angeles (if God can do anything, why not?) And they give thanks and rejoice and Moses goes out and meets with the city fathers and they are very friendly and receptive towards the Israelites and they enter the city and live there happily ever after. And every year thereafter they repeat this story of their deliverance from the desert. Think how much suffering could have been avoided in this scenario. No wars with the surrounding tribes, no dispersion to Europe, no Holocaust. Just a direct exodus from Egypt to California, the second promised land. Well, its an alternative!

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.
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