Can our identity be saved? The Passover challenge of our generation

For most Jews living today, we are blessedly not living a life of bondage or slavery.

Passover seder (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Passover seder (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the Seder and of Passover in general is how to make the experience new – both for ourselves and our children. Year in and year out we sit and recall a story that has been told countless times over several millennia.
Even more so, the sages mandated that not only should we recall the Exodus but that we ourselves must feel as if we are being liberated. That the Exodus is not just an ancient tale to be retold but a life lesson in faith and spirituality that relates to each and every one of us.
Both personally and communally I accept that this is a real challenge.
For most Jews living today, we are blessedly not living a life of bondage or slavery. While recent events make it abundantly clear that there are certainly threats from enemies intent on our destruction – as the Hagadda teaches there will be in every generation – we know that perhaps more so than at any time in our people’s history we have an army to defend us and a myriad of interests promoting the strength of the Jewish people both here in Israel and around the world.
I would therefore humbly urge us to admit that beyond those physical dangers, the greatest challenge that we face as a Jewish people is spiritual complacency – forgetting that so much remains to be achieved as a people and a nation before we can feel truly free.
Specifically, much remains to be achieved in promoting a stronger and prouder identity for our people – and herein is the great challenge facing our people and our state in this generation.
The Jewish people in Israel in 2016 are a people increasingly self-defined more by their nationhood than their peoplehood.
Evidence for this trend was revealed in the recent Pew survey which found that the majority of Israeli Jews see themselves as first Israeli and only then Jewish. The study found that as many as one in five Israeli Jews state that they don’t believe in God. The challenge of our generation therefore is to restore the importance among Jews of their Jewish identities and re-establish the bond between Jewish tradition and that identity.
The primary obstacle which inhibits this process, and which we know has led to the alienation of all too many Jews from pride in their Jewish identities is how they have come to associate Judaism not as an ancient tradition to be embraced in modern times but as a strict code of often outdated laws which are driven by a cold bureaucracy.
Fueling this notion is the reality that indeed in Israel, many aspects of Judaism are in fact driven by a cold bureaucracy.
For this reason, when young couples come to marry with the desire to do so in accordance with halacha and Jewish tradition, they can be stymied by clerks who act without compassion and place roadblocks in front of the young bride and groom.
Similarly the process of conversion to Judaism, a process which should be handled with the greatest degree of compassion and sensitivity, is again defined by a bureaucracy that leaves many young Israelis saying “if this is religion I want nothing to do with it.”
This disenfranchisement of a sizable segment of Israeli Jews – particularly but not exclusively from the secular community which is still the majority of the population – is a real and tangible challenge to our society which demands equal attention alongside the issue of physical destruction that we typically associate with Passover.
Yet like other spiritual challenges we have faced over the generations, I know that this one is not insurmountable.
By committing ourselves to a more compassionate and individualized approach to the needs of each and every Jew, this Passover we can all work to ensure a better, prouder and more united Jewish future for Israel and all the Jewish people.
The author is the founder and president of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization (