'The four sons corresponding to four generations' - Opinion

“Tell your sons and daughters”- A comparison of the four sons in the Passover Haggadah to four generations of Israelis in the Diaspora. 

 MEN AND WOMEN participate in a Passover Seder. Men and women came to study with Nechama Leibowitz and waited to hear her words. (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
MEN AND WOMEN participate in a Passover Seder. Men and women came to study with Nechama Leibowitz and waited to hear her words.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

This excerpt is quoted from the Passover Haggadah, which is recited as we gather around the Seder table, together for the first time in two years…

Seder night is an opportunity to repeat the national and private exodus from Egypt. To talk about the national journey we are involved in and the personal journey of each and every one of us. Everyone of us has a personal “Egypt” to let go of or something we miss. At least that's what the Haggadah says.

The Seder night is based on learning and internalizing this message and passing it on from generation to generation, all with the full and active participation of future generations. The children around the Seder table are not passive, they play an active role and enrich the previous generations. The conversation around the Haggadah and the Seder table is dynamic, both active and interactive for all involved.

Our national story, the story of the people of Israel, takes many turns throughout our history; it varies from generation to generation. With the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a dramatic turn to our story: the first years after the establishment of the State were devoted to the absorption of immigrants and to the building of national resilience. For this, it was necessary to create the identity of the “Israeli Sabra,” the character of Srulik. This process was at the cost of disengaging from the culture and language of the parent generation, the generation of immigrants. And it is true to say that the processes that Israeli society went through in those years are not fundamentally different from the processes that every immigrant society goes through.

Over the years, from a society that absorbs aliyah and condemns the Israelis who chose to leave and calls them "descendants" (the contrast between immigrants to Israel - fulfilling a lofty dream, versus the “descendants” who abandon the Zionist vision), we have become a society that understands Israelis that leave home (Israel) and build a new life in different places in the world. Like many other immigrants around the world, our Israeli brothers and sisters were looking for new economic and professional opportunities around the world. Most have settled in North America, and some have chosen to emigrate to Berlin, and others to England and other European countries. Some have moved farther to Australia, and recently there has been a movement to immigrate to Greece and Cyprus as well.

A phenomenon has emerged of the formation of Israeli communities abroad that are established in order to meet the need and desire to remain connected to Israeli language, culture and customs. Whether Israelis belong to any Israeli community or not, the vast majority of Israelis living in the Diaspora face the question of the identity of the second generation and the loosening of ties with Israel.

The Haggadah tells us about four sons. Four different sons that are portrayed as characters in the Pesach story. Our take on it – we will compare these four sons to four generations of Israelis in the Diaspora. 

Gusti Yehoshua Braverman (Credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM)Gusti Yehoshua Braverman (Credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM)

The Wise Son - the First Generation

The first generation are Israelis who left the country. They are Israelis in every way. Their practice is Israeli in everything they do - their thinking, their lifestyle, even the way they make coffee! All of these are deeply rooted in the Israeli being and identity from which they came from. This Israeli is indirectly connected to his native Israel even when he lives outside it. He spends hours surfing Ynet, following the news, music, friends, family, etc. He builds Israel for himself abroad and lives with it with love and care.

The "Evil" Son - the Second Generation

The "children of" are busy assimilating into the “new” country. This process of theirs does not leave much room for understanding or empathy towards their parents' country of origin. Whether born in Israel or not, this generation is connected to the "here and now" and is engaged - even without declaring it to themselves openly - in building a new, independent identity, detached from that of their parents. With regards to: "what about me and Hebrew, what about me and Israeliness,"the Haggadah quotes: “to you and not to him." Today, the generation that wants to be and feel as far away from Israel as possible, is the generation that is largely parallel to the generation of immigrant children.

The “Innocent” - the Third Generation

This generation has heard of Israel here and there, heard things, some good and some bad. Heard a bit from the "Israeli" grandparents, and maybe there was a year when this generation, the third, talked a little more about Israel, perhaps via an association, or the activities of a Jewish organization. Perhaps they even thought of Israel following a fascinating lecture they heard at university. But one way or another, they do not really know the story and enough to ask, "what is this?"

This question of theirs actually asks what is Israel? Why is it important? What is it about Israel that is important to my grandparents? And why do mom and dad have no answers for us? All of these are part of the questions that this generation is asking.

The One “Who Does Not Know How or What to Ask” - the Fourth Generation

We do not know them and they do not know us. This generation, and their connection to Israel is not essential for them. They live their life to the fullest in the new country in which they were born and raised. It is not clear to them with whom to choose to start a family. Will there be Jewish symbols going forward? Whether there are or aren’t, it is almost certain that the connection to Israel as a part of their identity will not exist. Because unlike the first and second and third generation, the fourth generation, will "disappear" and become a citizen of the world.

The State of Israel will soon celebrate its 74th anniversary. Today, our security and economic resilience are undisputed, which is precisely why the State of Israel has a duty to build a bridge with an emphasis on the second and third generations who tend to assimilate into the environment in which they grow up in. We need to allow them to maintain the warm bond with Israel that will also ensure an inviting path to return to that will increase their chances of returning to Israel in the future. And therefore, to you, the Israelis living in Diaspora, you are commanded on Seder night this year to tell the importance of the connection of the generations to the State of Israel.

Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, is head of the department for organization and connection with Israelis Abroad, World Zionist Organization