My Word: Digest and divest?

The Seattle Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace offers a Seder night that leaves traditionalists sleepless.

A woman shops for Passover 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A woman shops for Passover 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Reading this Haggada left me without much of an appetite.
I could never manage a traditional Seder meal after this. But then this Haggada is not about the traditional Seder meal of the type that millions of Jews around the world celebrate. It’s big on the affliction, although not necessarily of the Jews.
Its four cups run over, but not with Israeli wine. And its questions have more to do with ritual Israel-bashing than teaching the younger generation (as we are commanded) the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
The Seattle Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace produced this Haggada for its own communal Seders. When I first read about it on April 1, I thought it might be a joke; having read its 28 pages, it’s clear to me that it takes itself very seriously.
There are several twists in the Seattle JVP Seder. That’s probably because participants are constantly contorting and bending over backwards to remain politically correct.
It definitely has its own take on the traditional narrative. For example, it takes great care to make the distinction between ancient Egypt and today’s country. “We are not conflating contemporary Egyptians with the pharaoh and taskmasters that appear in the Passover story,” notes the JVP Haggada, first written in 2012. “In the US, and worldwide, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia saturate our media and our culture, and we must be vigilant to oppose it and interrupt it at every turn.”
No such care evidently needs to be taken to avoid anti-Israel sentiment.
(Here’s the beauty of their technique: You can’t accuse them of being anti-Semitic, because they are Jewish and even celebrating a Jewish holiday, in their own painfully peculiar manner.) One of the Haggada’s insights – make that incite, if you prefer – is that “The word Yisrael (Israel) when found in the liturgy (religious text) does not refer to the modern nation/ state of Israel, rather it derives from the blessing given to Ya’akov (Jacob) by a stranger with whom he wrestles all night. When the stranger is finally pinned, Ya’akov asks him for a blessing.
The stranger says, ‘Your name will no longer be Ya’akov but Yisrael for you have wrestled with G-d and triumphed.’ Therefore when we say ‘Yisrael’ in prayer we are referring to being G-d wrestlers, not Israelis.”
So much for the commandment to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt as if it happened to each of us personally, not as some distant historical event.
The group is obviously more into current events. The part of the invitation that drew attention in the social media had to do with the four cups of wine we drink at the Seder.
The Seattle JVP folk note in their open invitation: “Bringing a bottle of wine is great [but] we are respecting the Palestinian call for a boycott, so please try to bring wine (or whatever) made in places other than Israel.
We will also be updating you about our exciting boycott campaign.”
At this point they lost me on so many levels: Celebrating Passover, the religious holiday marking the ultimate expression of the (God-wrestling) Israelites’ path to freedom in the Promised Land by boycotting that very country makes me wonder whether we’re talking about the wicked child or the foolish one referred to in traditional haggadot.
I pondered whether “wine made in places other than Israel” couldn’t be interpreted (by their own thinking) as the produce of wineries on the Golan Heights and in the Barkan area of Samaria. Do you get added points for finding kosher non-Israeli wineries or is it preferable to mark Jewish freedom with non-kosher wines? And is it worth pointing out that the majority of Palestinians, including in the Palestinian Authority, actually do not call for a boycott of Israel and even import from it? Every call for a boycott puts Palestinian jobs at risk, because, contrary to what JVP supporters believe, Israel is not an apartheid state and Jews and non- Jews are employed in the same companies.
By now some readers will also be considering exciting discussions about the Seattle Seder’s boycott call, I suspect. But I digress.
As you might expect from the type of people breaking away from the traditional meal passed down from generation to generation, the JVP Seder plate contains some unusual ingredients. As a vegetarian, I also use a beetroot instead of a roasted shank bone – an option the group helpfully points out – but I didn’t realize what my plate was missing: The JVP Haggada recommends adding an orange – “symbolizing building Jewish community where women, queer and transgender people are welcomed and recognized as full, valued participants” and an olive, “symbolizing the self-determination of the Palestinian people and an invitation to Jewish communities to become allies to Palestinian liberation struggles.”
It doesn’t specify where the oranges and olives should come from, but I’m guessing that anything stamped Jaffa will not be welcome, unless of course it is proven that no Jews touched it.
The four cups of wine are dedicated to different themes (or, more accurately, variations of the same pro- BDS theme). The first glass, for example, is described as a “L’chayim to education” “At JVP we continually are educating ourselves in the history of the conflict...”
OK. So maybe not all Jews are into the “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat” school of Jewish education.
The explanation about the breaking of the middle matza (yahatz) is accompanied by the story of Muhammad Ali, “a souvenir salesman by trade and a devotee of old Mickey Mouse cartoons” – I promise I’m not making this up – who fled his home in rural Galilee in 1948 and settled with his family a year later in Nazareth “one mile away from the village of his childhood.” (Luckily for him, he doesn’t live in Syria or Lebanon or anywhere else much more removed from Disneyland than Israel.) There is no mention, of course, of Jews who fled Arab lands in 1948.
(What? A modern exodus from Egypt?) Or were forced out of places like the Old City of Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. The Haggada does give a list to be recited of former Palestinian villages. At the risk of being a spoiler, I should note that at the end of the meal participants declare: “Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in Al-Quds. Next year in a city of peace!” If they were to proclaim the traditional “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt” they’d probably feel bound to have a few more hours of discussion on the iniquities of Jewish construction in the Holy City.
Permit me to skip the maggid section on the “Telling of the story”: Suffice to say, the picture looks different at a communal pro-BDS Seder in Seattle than it does in a traditional family home in Jerusalem, or almost anywhere in the Jewish world.
Allow me, also, to not spell out the JVP version of the Ten Plagues, “The Ten Plagues of the Israeli Occupation.”
I wouldn’t say that I didn’t find anything commendable in the Seattle Seder invitation. It ends with a request: “Please be fragrance free.”
Admittedly, in Israel perfumes are considered the perfect gift for the Seder hostess, and all major chain stores have special offers on them this time of year. Granted, too, that part of the Seder experience, in my opinion, should be for children to be hugged by their aunts, while trying to dodge a lipsticky kiss, and be surrounded by the smell and warmth of those who love them. But in this particular case I make an exception: The Seattle JVP Seder stinks so much that no perfume is going to disguise it. It is the smell of self-hatred. And that’s very different from the aroma of love of “the other.”
[email protected] The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.