My Word: The story and miracles of Passover

As Israel approaches its 70th anniversary, despite the problems and the dangers, the country still has cause to celebrate the miracles and wonders.

March 29, 2018 22:16
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man dips cooking utensils in boiling water to remove remains of leaven in p

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man dips cooking utensils in boiling water to remove remains of leaven in preparation for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, March 27, 2018.. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)


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Prophesy is granted to fools, children – and foolhardy columnists. I cannot predict what the security situation will be in Israel (or anywhere in the world) by the time you are reading these lines, but two things are known: On the evening of March 30, Jews everywhere will sit down with family, friends or co-religionist travelers on the path of life to celebrate the Seder marking the start of the week-long Passover festival, and there are terrorist organizations and so-called “lone wolves” who would love to spoil the holiday. We should never forget the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya in 2002 when Hamas terrorists killed 30 people and injured 140 as they sat down to begin their Seder meals.

This year, with Seder coinciding with what the Palestinians know as Land Day, the atmosphere is particularly tense. The Palestinian propensity for “Days of Rage” is morphing into weeks and even months. Gazans are planning a march of thousands to the border leading up to Israel’s Independence Day and 70th anniversary festivities on April 19 and what the Palestinians call Nakba Day, the “Catastrophe” of Israel’s creation which they mark on May 15 Seventy years on, instead of admitting it was a mistake to not recognize the State of Israel at the time and create a peaceful state alongside it (as envisioned in the UN Partition Resolution), the Palestinians are still more focused on trying to destroy Israel, physically, psychologically and diplomatically.

I often wonder what the Palestinian identity would be if there weren’t an Israel to help define it. Israel’s identity in a way starts with the Passover story of the Exodus from Egypt. It was a return of the Children of Israel to the Land of Israel and the incidents on the way, particularly receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, which turned the family tribes into a people with a religion.

The Exodus is a central part of Judaism, recalled in daily prayers, and on the Sabbath and on festivals. It is so important, we are commanded to tell the story to our children, each person as if he or she personally went out from Egypt.

Every year, there is a high alert for terror attacks over the holiday, the Jewish Festival of Freedom. Terrorists don’t need a special excuse: This is not about settlements or the announcement by Donald Trump that he will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. During the Seder, we recall how “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.” It would be very depressing, if it weren’t for the fact that we also recall the miracles, like the splitting of the Red Sea.

For me, the Iron Dome is a modern miracle, and if it was oversensitive earlier this week, triggering rocket warning alerts in the South in response to heavy machine-gun fire by Hamas in Gaza, it doesn’t detract from the way it has given Israel a sense of security and the ability to carry on life under the most trying of circumstances. It’s not foolproof but it adds a layer of unprecedented protection.

More than 10,000 rockets have been fired on Israel from Gaza in the last decade. Unlike the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats in European countries and the US following the appalling assassination attempt on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Britain earlier this month, the world has not come to Israel’s defense. Just last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council, continuing the charade that makes a mockery of its name, passed seven resolutions condemning Israel.

My favorite falls into the chutzpah category, condemning “human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan.” Forget the more than 4,000 Syrians who have crossed the border to receive (free) healthcare in Israel since 2013. Mercifully, the UNHRC didn’t try to determine to which of the luminaries of human rights Israel should hand the Golan: Bashar Assad, the jihadist rebels or to forces being supported by Iran.

THE CELEBRATION of Passover for thousands of years is a miracle in its own right.

The Exodus story is particularly frustrating for our enemies. It’s a narrative that started more than 3,000 years ago, not seven decades ago.

Last week, Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center warned that at the next UNESCO gathering the Palestinians will probably try to claim as their own the archeological site of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered there. (Incidentally, Jordan has also tried to claim ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls.) It’s part of the ongoing attempt to erase Jewish connections to the area and portray Israelis as colonialists (a charge Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has made in his own words). The fact that the scrolls are written in, well, the language of the Hebrews apparently doesn’t faze them.

This effort to depict Jews as invaders, rather than indigenous, can also be seen in UNESCO resolutions that refer to the Temple Mount as al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif; the Western Wall plaza as al-Buraq; the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as al-Haram al-Ibrahimi; and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque, as if the Muslim identity of those places was created before the Jewish one.

Passover is a blow to anyone who wants to rewrite history and re-create reality. Almost every Jew has memories of Seder nights. It’s part of growing up Jewish. Every year, there are stories of the hundreds of Jewish backpackers who flock to a Chabad House in places like Kathmandu, drawn by the need to be together and literally get a taste and feel of home.

According to a Jewish People Policy Institute survey carried out in late 2017 and earli - er this year as part of its Israeli Judaism project, “97% of Jews [in Israel] responded ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Do you host or participate in a Passover Seder?’” It is one of the few Jewish practices in Israel that is almost equally observed across the spectrum of Jewish sectors (including 93% of “totally secular” Jews, the sector with the lowest participation rate in Passover Seders), the JPPI reported.

Those figures didn’t surprise me as much as the finding that a majority of Israeli Jews “read the entire Haggada at the Seder... including the part that is read after the meal.”

The massive participation by Israeli Jews in Passover customs literally goes with the territory.

Every week, the Jewish state slows down on a Friday afternoon for the Sabbath; every year, the country goes into a frenzy of cleaning before Passover. This year, as Sabbath and Seder night are celebrated together, there’s nowhere better to feel it than Israel. After all, we conclude the Seder with the words “Next year in Jerusalem!” It doesn’t matter how many times before we’ve heard the story of how the Children of Israel fled Pharaoh’s hardships so hastily that there wasn’t time for the bread to rise, there is still the collective urge to hear it again, and remind ourselves through eating matza and other symbolic foods of the tears and the hardships but also how we left them for the Promised Land.

As Israel approaches its 70th anniversary, despite the problems and the dangers, the country still has cause to celebrate the miracles and wonders. Passover, after all, represents Jewish survival against the odds.

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