Sweet like Manischewitz or One Big Horse Radish? Passover in a Year of War

With the recent escalation with Iran and the hostages still not back, I would say, boy, could we use another holiday to take our minds off the war and global Anti-Semitism. But unlike Purim, Passover just isn’t it.

Ordinarily, right now, I’d be excited for matzah ball soup, four cups of good wine, reclining on pillows, my kids’ haggadahs, and me doing a mediocre job leading the proceedings.

Sadly, however, I’m anticipating a somber Pesach this year. What ordinarily is a joyous time retelling how we were freed from persecution, will likely serve as a reminder of our timeless persecution. Our origin story may just feel like the same old story.

There are just too many parallels between the past and the last six months. Bondage and the hostages and chants of let my people go. Moses and the Mossad Chief David Barnea each negotiating in Egypt. Threats of escalation with more plagues, G-d delivering aid in the form of manna, and bowl after bowl of salty tears. It’s all there. Thankfully, except for gefilte fish.

Though the one thing that really makes this year’s holiday resonate so much more, is that just as the Exodus involved the entire Jewish people, the global Anti-Semitism is impacting us all. We all feel it. For better or worse, we’re all having the same collective moment. An otherwise communal holiday will be a global one, and that doesn’t happen too often.

I always wondered how powerful Seders were in 1948 after Israel achieved independence, or how Survivors felt Passover night having just been liberated from the camps. 1968, the year after we recaptured Jerusalem in the Six Day War, was probably equally profound, when, for the first time in millennia, “next year in Jerusalem” became this year.

Though beyond the 20th century, the last time something truly involved the majority of Jews was the Roman occupation and destruction of the Temple in 70CE which began the diaspora.

Since then, we’ve dislocated from one country to all over the world, fractured spiritually into four or five versions of our religion, and forget politics. We even wrote two Talmuds, one by the community in Babylonia (Talmud Bavli), the other in Jerusalem (Talmud Yerushalmi). Today, American Jews have two lobby groups.

Jewish texts and Jews themselves are never short on diverging opinion. One of the highlights of the Seder are the four questions posed by four different types of children. Given my feelings lately about the world, the one I most closely resemble is the dwelling, pessimistic, depressing son (okay, that’s not one of the choices). Though ideally, the best way to look at current events is through the eyes of the simple child. We’ve survived tragedy before, and we’ll get through this, too.

No one on Earth is better than us at turning bitter herbs into a tasty Hillel sandwich. The Passover story can be summed up that the Jews are having it really hard, but in the end, our enemies are defeated, and the dream of being in Jerusalem a year from now is still alive.

Not immediately, but soon enough, the war will be over, and many more Jews from around the world will be living in a rebuilt, stronger, Jewish state. The tourists will return, new technologies will be developed, young, inspired leaders will emerge (thank G-d), and the women of the IDF who performed so extraordinarily in combat will rise in the ranks as they so deserve.

Being hopeful is pretty much the only way for us to stay sane. It’s like the reason people give for why we’ll win, we really have no other option. Golda Meir said more or less the same thing when she told, ironically then Senator Joe Biden of all people, “we have a secret weapon in our battle against the Arabs. Senator, we have no place else to go.”

Today and throughout our history, we’ve never had a choice but to stay positive. That’s what successful people do. That’s what Jews do and why we survive. We have no choice but to have a zissen Pesach.

About the Author
Steven Berkowitz lives in New York City, writing advertising by day, and by night, sharing thoughts he hopes connect with the broader Jewish world. He hopes his next piece will be a lot funnier, and says, "Sorry about that!"