Robert Festenstein

Just because its old, doesn’t mean it’s out of date.

Passover is almost upon us.  Only a few hours before it’s out with the bread and in with the matzah.  This is the time of year when we sit at the seder table, read or sing from the Haggadah and talk about the exodus from Egypt.  Well, some of the talk is about the exodus, a lot is about how much everything cost, the people who are no longer with us and sometimes the relevance of the whole thing.

The story goes that the Israelites were slaves to the Pharaoh in Egypt and God brought us out of bondage to freedom.  We celebrate that freedom at the seder table and speak as if we had been brought of Egypt.  It might sound a strange thing to do, to speak about leaving Egypt but it does work.  Thinking about it on such a personal level connects us with that event and crucially the whole principle of the redemption from slavery.

The idea that one person should enslave another is abhorrent to us and may go some way to explain why Jews have been so connected with fighting flagrant injustices such as apartheid in South Africa and legalised segregation in the United States.

The Haggadah refers to the miracles of Passover and how God visited 10 plagues upon the Egyptians and as a result, the Pharaoh was finally persuaded to let us go.  There I go, speaking as if I was there.

Only he changed his mind, and sent his soldiers after the Israelites to bring them back.  When the Israelites got to the Red Sea (or more likely the Reed Sea) their way was barred by the water, until God split the waters and they were able to cross ahead of the Egyptians who perished in the waters as they closed around them.  By the time we get to this part in the seder things are well underway and we move swiftly on to the next part, leaving the drowned Egyptians behind us.

The Haggadah though does not ignore them. The late Lord Sacks, in his Haggadah, commented on the Egyptian loss and reminded us that we should not rejoice when our enemy falls and further, referred to a Talmudic passage which states that when the angels wished to sing a song of praise, God silenced them with the words, “My creatures are drowning in the sea, and wish to sing a song?” Lord Sacks in his commentary said that God does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked.

And this brings us right up to date.  Now.  For Egyptians read Hamas.  The deaths of Hamas terrorists are not the matter for joy, but a necessary action to prevent further murderous attacks upon us.  Israel would have left Hamas alone if only they had stopped trying to kill us. Again, speaking as it were me they want to kill, only this time it is not symbolic, it is true.  Just like it says in the Haggadah: in every generation our enemies try to destroy us, and here we are, in the middle of a war fighting to destroy just such an enemy, and trying hard to find the remaining hostages, taken on the 7th October last year.

With all the ignorant talk of ceasefires and genocide, we must remember the war crime which was the abduction of these people. Our people.  We must keep their names in our memory and remind the world repeatedly that their return is non-negotiable.  In 1940, the Polish illustrator Arthur Szyk produced a Haggadah and when it came to the 4 sons he portrayed the wicked son as a man wearing German clothes, with a Hitler-like moustache and a green Alpine hat.  I am sure that if Arthur Szyk were to paint the 4 sons today, it would not be hard to guess what the wicked son might look like.

Whoever might say that the festival of Passover in general and the seder in particular are outdated, they should be reminded that even now our enemies are trying to destroy us, Israelites are being held in bondage and it is our duty to try our hardest to release them and defeat those enemies seeking to kill us.  Plus ca change and chag Pesach sameach.

About the Author
Robert Festenstein is a solicitor based in Manchester with considerable experience in Court actions. He is active in fighting the increase in anti-Semitism in the UK and is President of the Zionist Central Council, an organisation devoted to promoting and defending the democratic State of Israel.
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