Encountering Peace: Next year we will be free!

We must use our strength with the determination to make next year the year of peace with our neighbors.

April 2, 2012 21:53
Ethiopians at Passover seder

Ethiopians at Passover seder 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share the hope of Passover. As we celebrate here we join with our people everywhere. This year we celebrate here. Next year in the Land of Israel. Now we are still in bonds, next year may be all be free.

This is how millions of Jews around the world will open their Passover celebrations in a few days. Passover is my favorite holiday in the Jewish calendar. I love the telling of the story of the journey from slavery to freedom. I relish the connection of our celebration to the rebirth of the land blessed with the warm spring sunshine. The smell of flowers blossoming all around and the call of nature invite us all to come outside after the cold and wet winter.

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In my tradition of celebrating, we always enhanced our Hagaddah by adding our own texts and stories. In times gone by we read from the “Let my people go” versions written in our solidarity with Soviet Jews. We had our additions for Ethiopian Jews, too, as they prayed for redemption and freedom in the Land of Israel. We read from the feminist haggadot, the social justice versions emphasizing our care and concerned for the homeless and the hungry, both in our house and among our neighbors. There are the peace haggadot that speak of freedom from hatred, racism and occupation.

This year, as we witness the renewal of last year’s summer of protests and solidarity, we are sure to hear and read renewed tales of social injustice, privatization of public services and other distortions in our society. I am quite sure that in some homes we will hear about the plight of migrant workers in our land and of the impending government decision to force people from Southern Sudan to leave the safety of their lives in Israel for the insecure and potentially dangerous future for themselves and their children in their own land.

I always believed that Passover has to be personal. It is not only the story of our people thousands of years ago. It is the one religious holiday that should be relevant for each one of us in our own lives. It is said that in every generation we are commanded to tell the story of Passover as if we were slaves in Egypt. In this we are being told that we are part of the story. Our lives are part of this passion to be free people in our land. Our struggle for freedom is ongoing. It continues and it must continue until we can chant those words in our national anthem that we sing with pride.

For me it is always that line “to be a free people in our own land” that gets to me. We have come a long way. There is much to be proud of as a people and as a state. But we have much to be concerned about as well. It is not the external threats to concern me this Passover, but the internal ones. The ones that we are largely responsible for, or at least have a great influence on. There is too much hatred among us. There is too much fear of the “other.” There is much too much violence, in the sports stadiums and in the streets. There is too much inequality. Gaps between the wealthy and the poor are too large. We don’t have enough real social solidarity.

Too many people during this holiday season are still dependent on hand-outs from charitable organizations and cannot make ends meet to properly celebrate this festival of freedom. They are not free of want and hunger. There are too many divisions, too many walls and too much ignorance.

At least Gilad Schalit is free this Passover and the chair at our tables that we reserved for him can be reserved for someone or something else. I will reserve a chair this year for peace. I will reserve the chair for the renewed commitment to make peace a reality for us and our neighbors. There are millions of Palestinians living under our rule and our control. They are not free people in their land and because we control them, we, too, are not free people in our land.

HOW CAN we be free when we oppress others who are striving for their freedom? I do not believe, I will not believe, that we want to control this people. I do not believe and will not believe that we cannot grant them their freedom – not in the next generation, but now, in our generation.

Yes, it does take two to tango; peace cannot be made by one side alone. But even with the dance metaphor, one side leads and the other follows. We are the stronger side.

We have achieved our independence. We have built our state and it is a strong one, a secure one. We have inspired the world and our land is a magnet of curiosity and interest. We must use our strength and determination to make next year the year of peace with our neighbors. Change is happening all around us. It looks frightening and creates a great deal of anxiety. There are those among us who see our neighbors and propose that we build higher walls and stronger fences.

Yes, we need our defenses; we must protect ourselves and ensure our security. But we must also take the time and the energy to identify and to recognize opportunities. Just as what our neighbors say and do affects how we view them, what we say and do affects them as well, and how they see us. We do not live in a vacuum; our words and actions resonate loudly and clearly. We have the ability to positively influence regional development far beyond our imaginations.

So this Passover let us raise a fifth cup of wine to our future – a future of promise, and a future of action, a future that we determine, a future that we shape. We are the actors on our stage of history and we must make ourselves free.

The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.

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