This Passover, as we celebrate our ancestors’ freedom from slavery, we reconnect through our most important holiday with our centuries-long traditions. It is incumbent upon us to contemplate the broader concept of freedom and what it means to us as individuals, as members of our immediate communities, and as members of the community of Jews across the globe.
Throughout history, Passover has also been a time of increased blood libels and pogroms against Jews. While Jews celebrated freedom and showed benevolence toward fellow humans, they were reminded how hated they were—hatred so strong that “justified” killing them by the dozens, thousands, and millions. In these days, as a new wave of anti-Semitism is sweeping over the globe, gathering tsunami-like power, it lands right in Manhattan's UN building. The global Jew-hate fest from Venezuela to Spain has metastasized into leading universities, mainstream media, civic organizations, and even Western governments. The tale of the Haggadah we read at the Seder stands to remind us that hate comes knocking on our door first with words, then with economic and academic boycotts, then with biased UN resolutions, and, as in the past, it may end with guns, bombs and incinerators.
Passover also marks spring in our ancient agrarian society, a beginning of a cycle of life, with the blooming of trees and the planting of vegetables and flowers. Spring’s fresh start and the tradition of inviting strangers to share our bounty at the Passover table reminds us of Israel’s extraordinary achievements in agriculture and science—efficiencies, discoveries and inventions she has sharedfor decades with over 120 countries to help nourish children, improve global food production, and wipe out starvation.
While these past sixty-three years Israelis—both civilians and soldiers—have given each Jew everywhere reason to walk tall and proud, their existential threat from Iran is real.
“Every Jew should consider himself as if he was freed from slavery,” says the Haggadah we read tonight. In today’s climate we should add that “Every Jew should consider himself as if he’s just escaped a terrorist bomb.” There but for the grace of God and twist of history, we would not have been spared the wrath and bombs of Palestinians or extreme Muslim murderers taking shelter in our sacred freedom. Let’s give our prayers and charity to the families who have suffered unimaginable, senseless losses and to the over 6,000 injured Israelis forever coping with imbedded nails, burned faces, or missing limbs. And as we do, let us search within ourselves whether we have done all we could for them and for the Israeli soldiers who take the first bullet for us.
The tradition of Passover also calls us to invite to the Seder table any Jew who does not have one. Let’s invite—at least in our thoughts—all our Jewish brethren in countries that do not offer the freedom and protection that the USA guarantees us. For them, we can raise our collective voice with indignation and outrage and use our collective power to fight tyranny and fanaticism that calls for our—and their—demise.
At a recent interview, Israel’s president Shimon Peres said that even Ben-Gurion had not dreamed big enough. Let us dream big tonight—stretch our dream to encompass all the vast possibilities, and let us dream tonight of a world of peace.
Let us bless all the good things God has given us so far, and celebrate our resilience and our heritage of strong Jewish values that we have shared with the world over for centuries. And let's allow that dream bring joy to our hearts and to our Passover table.
Novelist Talia Carner lives in New York. Her next novel, Jerusalem Maiden, will be published in June 2011 by HarperCollins. (www.TaliaCarner.com)