As an unapologetic Zionist who plans to partake in the development of the Jewish state, I don’t know why it has taken me nearly 21 years to realize just how Zionist Passover truly is. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been caught up in the traditions, distracted by the stresses of Seder and the active avoidance of matzah. To me, Passover has always meant affliction, family, and less than desirable food. Moses freed the Israelites from slavery; it’s a holiday about liberation, remembered through the oppression of our stomachs. But it’s also about Israel.
I spent my Seders in Charleston, South Carolina this year, which is nothing new. What was new was when my cousin pointed to the last page of the Reconstructionist Haggadah that we were using. It was a Haggadah I knew from past Passovers, originally printed in 1941. On the last page were two patriotic anthems: 1) “America” (of “My country ‘tis of three” fame) and 2) “HaTikvah.” The American song choice was odd and outdated, but so was this version of “HaTikvah.” The first verse I recognized. Then things took a turn. The second verse started the same way that the “HaTikvah” I know goes, but then it diverged:
Od lo avdah tikvateinu
La-shuv le-aretz avoteinu,
La-eir bah David chanah
Any good Zionist knows that this is simply not how “HaTikvah” concludes. There’s an alteration to the end of the stanza, so it translates to:
Our hope is not yet lost
The ancient hope,
To return to the land of our forefathers,
To the city where David camped
In all my years of Zionist indoctrination, Israel trips, and Jewish day school, I have never seen this curious edition of “HaTikvah.” Yet in a Haggadah printed in 1941, there was no other “HaTikvah.” The State of Israel had not yet been established, so this hope was still hypothetical. In 2019, Israel not existing seems like a crazy concept to me, even though during Seder we were reading literature from the pre-state era. “La-Shannah Ha-Ba-Ah” was even prefaced with the following: “May the coming year witness the rebuilding of Zion and the redemption of Israel.” As a historical artifact, I am not at all ashamed to admit how cool I found this. But using this Haggadah also made me consider the parallels between pre-state Zionism and Passover.
During Passover, we tell the basic story: Joseph brought his family to Egypt, where they lived and prospered until they were enslaved (the age-old caveat in Jewish history). All the Hebrew baby boys had to be cast into the Nile, but Yocheved put baby Moses in a basket so that he could be rescued and adopted by Bat Paroah. Skip ahead to Moses’s identity crisis when he finds out that he’s a Hebrew, so he runs away, meets Jethro, gets married to Tziporah, sees a burning bush, and realizes that his calling is to save the Hebrews. Moses goes to Pharaoh, the plagues roll through Egypt, and then the Hebrews have just enough time to bake matzah before crossing the Red Sea. And that’s the end. Except it’s not, which I know because I was at two Seders in Charleston this year, which means that something had to happen after the end of Magid besides finally eating.
Indeed, something did happen after Magid better than matzo ball soup (sorry, Aunt Ellen): the Hebrews became the Israelites, a nation, destined to wander the wilderness for forty years until they (minus Moses) made it to Eretz Yisrael. I’m not trying to show off that sometimes I paid attention during my Biblical Literature classes. Rather, what I’m trying to get at is that the point of Passover is to return to Eretz Yisrael.
Yes, the Hebrews were enslaved. Yes, they were freed. Yes, they escaped Egypt. But throughout this entire process, the goal was always looming in the distance: to go home. Moses was the catalyst to bring a nation back to their land, where they could be free and live autonomously (until the Babylonians). This notion of freedom and autonomy is echoed in pre-state Zionism, which had the same goal as the ancient Hebrews: to go home.
It seems to me like all of Jewish history can be summed up in the sentiments of oppression and wanting to go home. Just like in the Haggadah’s “HaTikvah,” the Jews of the 1940s wanted to return the land of their forefathers—to the city where David camped. The Israelites went home and continued to keep returning home until two thousand years of hope became a reality. Now, I can go home and I can hope to spend next year in Jerusalem, in the land of Zion.