Zack Bodner
Seeker | Writer | Storyteller | Community Builder | Doer

This Passover, It’s Time to Say Dayenu to This American Jewish Moment

The Passover story is the ultimate story of Jewish self-determination. When the Jews finally fled Egypt—thanks to Moses’s brave leadership—we ended our enslavement. We took our own destiny into our own hands. We stopped being the victims of history and we began to write our own story.

There were plenty of those who were terrified that it would make things worse for us if we stood up for ourselves. But ultimately, Moses said, “Dayenu!” He galvanized the Jewish People into action. Being Pharaoh’s slaves had to end, even if we didn’t know what would come next. Then, even after we were free, it still took another 40 years to shed the slavery mentality – the mentality of fear.

Today, we must see the lesson in that moment and embrace it here in America.

On American college campuses around the country, Jewish students are being targeted. They’re being bullied, harassed, intimidated, and assaulted. Were it directed at any other minority group, it would likely provoke a stronger institutional response. But, when directed at Jews, school leadership hesitates to take action because they are worried that if they clamp down, then these bad actors, who are violating school rules, and likely breaking local laws as well, will only get stronger. They are scared that punishing harassment and assault is somehow a violation of free speech, and their paralysis only emboldens the perpetrators.

But giving in to the bullies never ends well. Appeasement never works. Pushing off doing the right thing early only makes it harder to the right thing later.

Indeed, by not nipping this in the bud at Columbia, it’s already begun to spread to other schools. But enough is enough! Dayenu!

If university administrators aren’t going to act decisively, American Jewish leadership must press for change. Some have done so already by pulling or threating to pull funding, but that’s not enough. It’s time for every American Jew to move from passive concern to active advocacy. If you’re paying tuition, sitting on school boards, or interacting with decision makers, let your voice be heard. Stop being scared. It’s time we learn from our Israeli brothers and sisters how to say Dayenu.

Israelis don’t appease bad behavior because they’re worried about threats that the crazies will just get crazier. They take action. Even if the world tells them not to, whether it’s against Hamas or Iran, Israel steps up to take care of the bad actors. Israel has shed the slavery mentality, and they live the lesson of Dayenu. Today, the rest of the Jewish Diaspora must learn from our Israeli brothers and sisters.

The thing is our kids here get it. Our American Jewish children understand what it means to stand up for themselves. They are fighting for themselves on college campuses today. It is inspiring to see how they’re speaking at rallies and writing articles proclaiming their Jewish pride. It’s invigorating to see them wear their Jewish stars and wrap themselves in the Israeli flag in the middle of campus.

They are the generation that has internalized the lesson of Dayenu and have shed the slavery mentality. Now it is time for American Jewish adults to do the same thing. Instead of considering the advice of a rabbi at an Ivy League school telling the Jewish students to stay home because it’s not safe, we should be joining our kids on campus, marching to the president’s office, and not leaving until they enforce the rules and make it safe for our kids! It’s time for real TACHLIS, real action. Dayenu!

Tonight, at our Passover Seder, in addition to calling for the actual freedom for Israeli hostages being held in bondage, we will also discuss what it means to live the lesson of Dayenu as American Jews. Then after our Seder, I’m going to encourage all of us to go out and take action. Because in the words of David Ben Gurion, “Words without deeds are nothing.”

I hope you have a meaningful and impactful Passover.

About the Author
Zack Bodner is the President and CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, CA and the Founder of the Z3 Project, an effort to reimagine Diaspora-Israel relations. He is the author of "Why Do Jewish: A Manifesto for 21st Century Jewish Peoplehood," a #1 Amazon New Release in Religion and Philosophy. Learn more at Zack lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and three kids.
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