Jeffrey Cahn

Do Our “4 Sons” Know Which Struggle They Support?

We Are in Four Wars. Which are they Protesting?

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At our seder table on the first night of Passover we could hear the shouts of demonstrators from Columbia University’s main quad just down the street. Painfully, some of our own children and friends were making seder not with us, but on the quads of this and other great American universities, peacefully breaking matzah in the tradition of our Jewish ancestors while holding signs saying, “Burn Down Tel Aviv.”  A Columbia grad student who was at our seder observed, “I have so many friends who have no idea what the issues are, but they love the camaraderie of the demonstrations and have been waiting for a good “anti-colonialist” cause to protest, since that is what our generation has been taught to do.”  

Wow, I replied. Just Wow.

As we read the section on the Four Sons in the Haggadah, I marveled at our ancient wisdom that teaches how different people can see the world so differently. 

In that spirit, I want to say to those who missed seders with their families to be in solidarity with their peers that I understand the desire to fight for justice and peace. Evidently, we have managed to teach our children that lesson well. What we have failed to do is to educate them on exactly what they are fighting for. And since we modern Jews are in the middle of not one, but four different struggles, before protesting it would make sense to get some clarity on what exactly the protest is about.

So… to our children shouting,  “Stop the Genocide in Gaza,” I offer: 

“You must be speaking of our struggle against Hamas, whose radical Islamic ideology is committed to destroying not only the Jewish state, but all the Jewish people. This struggle is being waged not only by Hamas, but by Iran and their many allies, including Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Houtis, and many other Iran-supported terrorist groups around the world. There can be no accommodation and no negotiation with this ideology, for it makes no accommodation for living with us. We must fight against it at all costs, wherever it arises to do us harm. The war in Gaza is a war to eliminate the threat from Hamas on Israel’s western border, and many innocent people are caught in the crossfire. If Hamas surrenders, the war will stop immediately and no more Gazans will suffer.  If Hamas is not removed by defeat or surrender, then there will be, in their own words, 1000 more October 7th’s. Are you still protesting?” 

To our children shouting, “From the River to the Sea,” I respond: 

“You must be speaking about the struggle between the state of Israel and the Arab countries who still reject the idea of a non-Arab state in their midst, and have done so since the founding of Israel. But Israel is here to stay and will make peace with any and every country who agrees to do so. Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and others have already done so. There can be peace too with the Palestinians in Gaza and everywhere. Perhaps you would prefer to demonstrate to pressure the Arab countries who have not yet done so to recognize Israel, rather than for the erasure of the one and only Jewish homeland.” 

To our children shouting, “Free Palestine,” I say:

“You must be speaking of the struggle between the state of Israel and the Palestinians. We do not want to be at war with Palestinians, and are willing to live side by side if they are. We have tried again and again to make peace with a Palestinian state, starting in ‘48 and most recently at Oslo. Once there is Palestinian leadership willing and able to negotiate a reasonable solution, the vast majority of Israelis will accept it. Hamas will not, but perhaps there will arise leadership that can once Hamas’s rule in Gaza ends. Perhaps you can demonstrate to pressure the Palestinian Authority to clean up its act, or the world to support the creation of new leadership for the Palestinians?”

To our children shouting, “Zionism is Colonialism,” I declare:

“You must be speaking about the struggle against those who would deny to Jews what is given to all other peoples. Many Arab countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia were created from the same Turkish empire that gave the Jews [and Palestinians, but they lost their sovereignty at war] a state of their own. Do Palestinians have the right to their national liberation movement, for which you now demonstrate, but Jews not have a right to ours, which we call Zionism? This double-standard is simply the latest turn of the ancient hatred of anti-semitism. I’m sure you are NOT an anti-semite, but do you realize you are parroting a virulently anti-Semitic idea? Why not demonstrate to demand that all Palestinian leadership recognize the fact of Israel’s existence and come to the negotiating table with a reasonable proposal for peace and finally accept a state of their own?” 

The story of the exodus from Egypt teaches us that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, things can change for the better. Our four intertwined struggles today indeed seem insurmountable. Perhaps with some more understanding of history, and of the present world reality, our children can be inspired to leave their mob mentality behind, and fight the right battles to achieve what they, and we, so desperately want: a better world. 

About the Author
Jeff is the Executive Director of the New York-based multi-site synagogue, Romemu. He has also held senior positions at Young Judaea and UJA Federation of New York. Jeff’s first career was in high tech, founding the internet company, Netpulse, and working for AT&T, Intel and the Israeli Telecom company, Telrad. Jeff has a BS degree from Cornell and a Masters degree from Stanford University.
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