Gil Lewinsky

An Introspective Passover as History Returns to Life

This Passover the mood appears subdued in Israel. People wish each other a happy holiday, but then in the next breath mention, “but we cant really celebrate this holiday our freedom, for the hostages are still in captivity in Gaza.”

People are spring cleaning to make their kitchens kosher, customary bonfires happen, and we will all be around a Passover table tonight, but it wont be the same.

Even during COVID 19, when we viewed ourselves captive to our homes due to a pandemnic virus, there was still a festive holiday cheer. People created zoom seders. The ones that kept the strict rules of no electricity tried not to be alone singing joyous songs with their neighbors and immediate family while the less strict created a cyber tradition and felt connected via community and television. We knew that what was binding us was a calamity but not human.

This year, humans are holding us captive. To be exact, Hamas in Gaza, is holding some of our nation captive. Despite the rhetoric from the upper echelons, from Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defense Forces that the rescue of the hostages is a top priority, only three have been rescued by the military and 105 through a prisoner exchange deal in 2023.

While this is taking place, the world has never been a scarier place to be a Jew. Making global headlines is an anti-Semitic hate fest that is taking place on Colombia University in New York City, home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities in the diaspora. For atleast a week, protesters, whose sole desire seems to be the eradication of the Jewish people and of Israel, have been granted the freedom to express their views. No more is the talk simply of a ceasefire, but now the dismantling of Israel. Slogans of a daily October 07th and of destroying Tel Aviv are rampant. It makes what I experienced in Toronto and during the Al Aqsa Intifadah years in Calgary mild in comparison. There is condemnation from US President Biden and from leaders in the USA. However on campuses, the anti-Semitism is spreading. What I saw in mild form in the 2000s has become manifest in a way that may easily echo the 1930s.

What do we do? In Israel most of us already want to move back to normal life. However a normal life to what? Weekly protests rock this country similar to pre October 07th Israel. There were waves of hatred throughout Israel’s existence and before in the Jewish exile.

This Passover is one where we need to look inward and reflect. During the story of Passover, we too were a minority, enslaved by the far more powerful Egyptians. They, like the protesters of Columbia today, or like the masters of Hamas in Iran would love to see us crushed, humiliated, powerless, meek. However, as was highlated in a recent speech in Ranaana over Shabbat Hagadol, two elements, both unseen, are key to our success:

  1. Faith. We have survived 3300 years. We have survived Pharoah, Crusaders, and Nazis. We will survive Hamas and the Ayatollahs of Iran as well. We need to remain true to who we are and to think that in every struggle there is a silver lining. When Iran attacked us for the first time in the early morning of April 14, Israel with the help of allies, including unexectedly Jordan and Saudi Arabia, helped neutralize 99% of the threat. A truly remarkable turn of events that will likely need to be further studied at West Point. However, it is also important to note, that the most searched item in Israel during that whole period was Psalms.
  2. Unity. If this period has taught us anything, be it from Hamas or from the messaging of vile anti Semites on University campuses, is that all Jews are the same. When one reflects on the images coming out of university campuses, there is little left to differentiate. While there was a time when a Jew unaffiliated with Israel would be accepted, today there are active slogans about gas chambers and about wiping out Jews. The groups do not care what sort of Jew one is, at the end of the day, we are all in the same camp. Likewise when Hamas attacked us and took our people hostage they did not ask what type of Jew it was that they were taking. As such, we as a people are experiencing the same trauma together and the response should be accordingly. The more the Jewish people unite, the more likely we will overcome the difficulties that befall us. This Passover season is truly a time for Jews to put their differences aside, be them unaffiliated, Reform, Orthodox, or Haredi. Even if we can pretend to escape our fate is all intertwined. By banding together we stand a chance.

Thus, this is truly a Passover different from all other Passovers. History, which we believed to have left us, has returned to bite us and again we are in a precarious situation. By remembering our roots and who we are we stand a chance of getting ahead and this is what Passover is about… remembering who we are as Jews, a nation that went from shackles to freedom.

About the Author
Born in Israel but raised in Canada, Gil Lewinsky worked as a journalist in Jewish newspapers including the Jerusalem Post after completing a Masters degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. He also has a LLM in International Law from Lancaster University in the UK. His past topics include a book written about the Status of Gaza under International Law soon after its conquest by Hamas in 2007. He is perhaps best known as one of two people that brought a flock of Jacob Sheep from Canada to Israel in 2016, making history. He currently works as a teacher and English public relations professional in Israel.
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