The festival of Passover, which begins this evening, celebrates the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery and God’s promise to lead them to the Promised Land. When the Israelites followed Moses in the Exodus from Egypt, they did so together – as one people.
The week-long holiday, and particularly the Seder, offers a unique opportunity for Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to cast aside their differences and divisions and celebrate together – as one people.
As the key refrain in the Haggadah urges us, “In every generation, one is obligated to see oneself as if he/she/they left Egypt.”
One of Israel's worst internal crises ahead of Passover
On March 27, amid one of the worst internal crises in Israel’s history, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a suspension of the government’s judicial overhaul legislation until after the Knesset’s Passover recess “to provide a real opportunity for real dialogue.”
A day later, President Isaac Herzog hosted the first round of negotiations between coalition and opposition teams to seek a compromise after three tempestuous months in the Knesset and massive street protests across the country.
“Stopping the legislation is the right thing. This is the time to begin a sincere, serious and responsible dialogue that will urgently calm the waters and lower the flames,” Herzog declared. “I call on everyone to act responsibly. Protests and demonstrations, on whichever side – yes. Violence – absolutely not! If one side wins, the state will lose. We must remain one people and one state.”
“I call on everyone to act responsibly. Protests and demonstrations, on whichever side – yes. Violence – absolutely not! If one side wins, the state will lose. We must remain one people and one state.”Isaac Herzog
In his Passover toast at the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu also sounded a conciliatory tone. “We are in the midst of an important debate; we will get past it,” he promised. “You will celebrate Passover. On Seder night, you will sit with your families. You will argue a little – not too much – you will reach agreements. This is our goal, to reach agreements.”
Opposition leaders for the most part responded in kind. National Unity leader Benny Gantz welcomed the timeout and, in a phone call, urged the prime minister to retract his decision to dismiss Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for breaking ranks. “No to civil war, no to divisions; yes to agreement and dialogue,” Gantz said.
“If the government is ready for real and fair dialogue, we will be able to exit this crisis stronger and more united, and turn this moment into a defining moment of shared life,” declared Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
What was striking during the mass demonstrations for and against the legal overhaul was that protesters all waved the same Israeli flags. “We are all brothers (and sisters),” read the letters in lights across Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Towers.
This spirit of unity should inspire Jews in Israel and across the world on Passover. It is an opportunity to free ourselves from internal disputes and concentrate on what we have in common. In recent months, Israel’s enemies have delighted in watching Israelis tear each other apart, and its friends have voiced genuine concern. The Jewish people are most powerful when they rally together behind a cause.
As we prepare to celebrate Passover – and later this month to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, and Independence Day – we would do well to reflect on the tragedies and miracles throughout our history that have brought us together.
Perhaps the biggest miracle is that after 2,000 years of exile, the Jewish people are about to celebrate 75 years in a state of their own – a country that is home to a resilient people of more than nine million; people who possess deep faith and creative innovation, a powerful military, a robust democracy and a solid economy. Known globally as the Start-Up Nation, Israel is often the first to lend a hand to other countries in their crises and disasters.
Passover is a time for celebration, gratitude and togetherness. It is also a time to reach out to the needy, the sick and the infirm. Gathering around the Seder table is a reminder that we are all small families in what is ultimately one big family, and it is up to us – as we get together and partake in the Passover rituals – to recall our turbulent history, count our current blessings and be hopeful for the future.