During every Passover of my early childhood, Eliahu Hanavi (the Prophet Elijah) - a cross between Santa Claus and the tooth fairy - used to tuck presents under my pillow: a bag of holiday hazelnuts, small toys, paper dolls or coloring books. To this day I don't know where my family dug up this custom, but the cover-story was that Elijah mysteriously delivered gifts while I slept.
It somehow unaccountably happened after his visit to our Seder, but not completely unrelated to it. That logical lapse didn't bother me as much as the question of whether he really enters when we open the door for him. My father gently kicked the table to make the wine in Elijah's goblet quiver a bit, as if someone unseen was actually sipping from it. When I wondered how Elijah could be everywhere at the same time, my mother replied that he appears "in spirit."
Spirits presumably can be omnipresent.
To prove the point, Dad recited a poem by Natan Alterman, which started a whole new unorthodox tradition in our household. Every year these verses regularly returned to our Seder. Written in 1948, several weeks before Israel's independence - when it already desperately fought for its life - they describe Elijah's stopover at a military Seder (my translation, alas, cannot begin to impart the austere beauty and cadence of the original Hebrew):
He will arrive, the grandfather, as he passes always
Over the houses of Israel. In mantle and sash
He will come to the table of the Hebrew unit,
Which wears smoke and soil and lead.
His hand will extend to his cup as is custom.
To attention before him will rise the platoon.
And in the doorway, like a huge tear of gold and celebration,
Will blaze the moon
In a Passover sky.
In the high sky of a war's night
The moon will blaze. And the wine will turn blood-red.
And the elder, who aged with the aging of the nation,
Will stand at its cradle this night.
Motionless, he'll gaze and keep silent.
Only his lips will tremble.
â€¦And a Haggada he'll then espy -
A bit untraditionalâ€¦ how's he to recognize it?
But the ancient echo that resonates to its reverberation
Is mightier than ever hitherto.
From a distance the echo will roll
And the grandfather will eye the boys in the flickering light
And he will know: Never would Israel
Forget this Seder adorned with stocking caps.
â€¦He will bless the force arising for the nation,
Which at the commemoration of its birth,
Again is reborn.
There was no doubting then the enduring bond between past and present, the vitalizing inspiration that enabled the vastly outnumbered and outarmed few to survive against overwhelming odds. Those volunteers of that makeshift army indeed felt that they were partaking in a miraculous rebirth, that they represent all of Jewish history, that they are the fulfillment of 2,000 years of longings and dreams.
BUT TODAY it's not the reborn Jewish state and its buttressing which is necessarily the stuff of Jewish dreams. Many Jews obsessively dream of a Palestinian state, and remain entranced by that vision regardless of outrages by Palestinians (descendants of those who, at the vanguard of invading Arab armies, sought to obliterate the newborn Jewish state).
Even Shimon Peres - the man who announced he has "become totally tired of history, because history is a long misunderstanding" (Wall Street Journal, September 30, 1994) - concedes that Israel's very existence is threatened as in its neonatal days. He admitted as much to the Winograd Commission last November 11.
What to do about genocidal dangers? Peres blithely opined that "we must eradicate the motives to attack us, in other words achieve full peace in the near future," to which end "we must be cruel with ourselves."
Translation: The more menacing our enemies, the more we must appease them and make painful territorial sacrifices to allay their wrath.
But to whom will these strategic assets go? In its charter, Hamas declares that "Israel will exist only until Islam destroys it." Moreover, accepting Israel is a nonstarter because "a Jewish entity with a Jewish population constitutes constant provocation against Islam and Muslims."
Peres, though, sidelines Hamas by pinning his hopes on supposedly moderate Mahmoud Abbas. Yet Abbas's Fatah charter (as distinct from the purportedly annulled PLO charter) pledges precisely what Hamas does, except in the secular vernacular: "Our struggle will not cease until the Zionist state is entirely eliminated."
What Fatah terms "the full liberation of Palestine" entails "the annihilation of the Zionist entity in all its aspects - economic, political, military and cultural."
Previous withdrawals only invited more aggression. Official Palestinian TV reruns numerous times daily assassinated Hamas mentor Ahmed Yassin's reactions to Israel's pre-disengagement declared intentions to evacuate Gush Katif. "They're defeated," Yassin crowed, "when this process ends, they'll become a disabled state, helpless."
The terror kingpin noted Ariel Sharon's correlation between Tel Aviv and Netzarim. If Netzarim is gone, "then that's it - Tel Aviv is gone... They established a state to protect Jews from death and murder. If death and murder chase them in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya and everywhere among them," they will "flee and go back to Europe and America."
The very additional retreats Peres prescribes will embolden Yassin's torchbearers until that dire eventuality when nothing whatever could possibly save shrunken debilitated Israel, short of Elijah's extraordinary merciful intervention.
The trouble, of course, is that in the real grown-up world, no ethereal kindly old prophet leaves any toys under any pillows (unless by earthly human proxy).