Ron Kronish

Envisioning freedom this year on Passover

Matzo Crackers with chalice. Still Life with copy space
Matzah and Wine for Passover, courtesy of Getty images



This is the bread of poverty and persecution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.

Let all who are hungry come and eat.

Let all who are in need come and share the Pesach meal.

This year we are still here,

Next year, we will be in the land of Israel.

This year we are still slaves.

Next year we will be a free people.

(From the traditional Passover Haggadah)


On the evening of Monday, April 22nd, one week from tonight, Jews around the world will gather to celebrate Hag Heherut, the Festival of Freedom, known as Pesach or Passover. This is the night in our tradition on which we retell the story of our exodus from slavery to freedom, from bondage to the Promised Land. While it will probably be more difficult for many Jews this year—due to the ongoing wars in Israel and the growth of anti-Semitism abroad—for me the retelling of the story of our liberation and the asking of relevant questions are essential pillars of my Jewish identity and therefore I look forward to the seder this year as much as any year.

The beginning of the telling of the story (Hamagid)  section of the traditional Haggadah which we read every year on Passover, begins with the passage quoted above. It is like an “invocation” to the seder. With these words, we welcome all those who are in need to share the Passover meal with us.

When this classic passage was written in the Jewish diaspora, in Aramaic, the assumption was that life in the diaspora was somehow always going to be some kind of “slavery”. In the minds of the rabbis, as long as Jews lived under foreign rule they would always live in a situation where they did not have power over their own lives and security. The traditional idea was that only when Jews will get to the land of Israel would they truly be a free people.

But is this really true? Does living in Israel guarantee freedom? For Jews? and for others?

In a contemporary Israeli Haggadah published by the Hashomer Hatzair movement in 1970, the text is revised with a stark twist:

This year only we (in Israel) are the redeemed of Israel (the people Israel)

Next year shall be all the people of Israel.

This year we are slaves

Next year we shall be free men [and women].

The framers of this Haggadah negated Jewish life in the Diaspora, which was the inclination of classical Zionism for a long time, but thankfully this is no longer the case. On the other hand, they did understand deeply that just living in the land of Israel does not guarantee our freedom.

We are still slaves to many outworn concepts and practices in Israel. First and foremost is the idea that all of our problems can be solved by war and more war, without any diplomatic horizon, without any vision of how we could somehow come to live in peace with our neighbors.  The war against the Palestinians in Gaza, following the attacks and massacres by Hamas militants on October 7th, is the best example of how we are enslaved to this old idea that what we can’t solve with force, we can solve with more force.

Secondly, we are slaves to the idea that a prolonged military occupation of another people, the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, is an acceptable way for us to live as Jews in this land. We have not freed ourselves of this oppressive situation, and therefore we as the Jewish People cannot truly be free while we are persecuting and ruling over another people in cruel ways, which humiliate and demean them every day.

Thirdly, we cannot really consider ourselves free of our responsibilities to the poor and hungry people within our own country. We have a very high level of poverty, side by side with a growing class of our own oligarchs. The gap between rich and poor is increasing all the time.

Fourth, we have the freedom to vote, but our democracy in Israel is under grave threat all the time by people seeking to undermine it, especially our Prime Minister and his cohorts in his extreme right-wing coalition, the most fanatic government in the history of Israel. They attack our democratic institutions all the time, and apparently would prefer that we live in an autocracy, ruled by a Prime Minister/King and his wife, who sees herself as a queen (not to mention their son the prince who has been exiled to Miami). In fact, every day we are living with less and less freedom in Israel during the last 15 months since the installation of this current anti-democratic government, with the minister of National Security diminishing our security and depriving us of our liberty more and more all the time.

In short, we are not really free just by living in the state of Israel, even if we do have some basic level of freedom, according to the law. True freedom comes with responsibility towards the discriminated and the oppressed within our midst. On Pesach, we should be mindful that our freedom is precious, but it is never complete unless we extend it to all within our country and our region, in fairness and with justice.

We are commanded on this holiday to see ourselves as if we too went out of Egypt.

In every generation, each person must see himself or herself as if he or she went out of Egypt. (from the Passover Haggadah)

Why do we say k’eelu, “as if”?

Because we need to imagine it! We need to force ourselves to be actively mindful of this idea, which is the central idea of Pesach.

What is the idea? What does it mean to feel as if we personally went out of Egypt?

Once it is personal, then it is not just a philosophical concept. It is something that I must feel in my consciousness, in my head, in my body. Also, to go out of “Egypt” means to leave a situation of slavery, of oppression, in which I have no power, and to live in a situation in which we as a people have power over our destiny. In this process, there is a goal of our personal, communal and national Exodus—it is to get to the Promised Land, or the Land of Promise, where we can live as a free people. Moreover, to leave a situation of slavery and to be on a journey to freedom should not only be for us as a people, but for all peoples who want to live in freedom and not under the dominion of another ruling power.

In practical terms, this means that we need to identify and care for not only our own citizens who are fleeing war in the north and the south, but we also need care for all citizens within our country and region, including the two million Palestinian citizens of Gaza who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid to avoid starvation and famine.  For us to have and enjoy our freedom, we need to help the Palestinian people – in Gaza and in the West Bank — live in freedom and security, which are the same goals we seek for ourselves. Our fates and destinies are inextricably intertwined.

This year, on our Hag Heherut, our festival of freedom, may we be mindful that our journey is not yet complete, that we have a long way to go to live in a land of freedom, and that it will take the personal efforts of all of us to help us as a community and a people, to live out this idea of freedom fully.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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