Throughout the long exile, the Jewish religion became the carrier of Jewish traditions, culture and societal attitudes. The holidays, and especially Passover, became vehicles for perpetuating Jewish culture. The holiday of Passover
symbolizes two different ideas that are essentially aspects of the same reality: It is the holiday of freedom from unjust servitude, and it is also the holiday of Jewish nationhood.
This dual legacy of social justice and national pride is celebrated separately in several different articles that have appeared for the holidays. In the Jerusalem Post
, Gerald Steinberg reminds us of the anti-Zionist campaign to wipe out Jewish history and the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. He writes:
In the face of this campaign, the Pessah Seder is our collective opportunity to reclaim and reassert Jewish history and the centrality of this legacy. As Ben Gurion told the diplomatic jury in 1947: "Jews worldwide still eat matza for seven days from the 15th of Nisan, and retell the story of the Exodus, concluding with the fervent wish, 'Next Year in Jerusalem.' This is the nature of the Jewish people."
Professor Steinberg is right of course, and so was Ben Gurion. The Jewish connection with the land was kept alive for 2000 years in this way. The Jerusalem of the people who made the wish was not just a hypothetical construct for the next world, but a concrete place, and those who went to live there were honored. This tradition of thousands of years cannot be deleted so easily by artfully contrived "versions" and "narratives" of history offered by Palestinian extremists and self-abnegating Jews.
Paul Usiskin reminds us on the other hand of the social justice and liberation tradition of Passover. He writes:
In synagogue several weeks ago I found a prescient footnote in the Pentateuch - The Five Books of Moses.. It read: "... those who have been downtrodden repeatedly, frequently prove to be the worst oppressors when they acquire power over anyone." The edition I read was produced in 1937.
This is Pesah - Passover. One writer on Jewish history described our Exodus as the beginning of Jewish peoplehood. In the Haggadah - the book from which Jews recite every Pesah...is Magid - The Recital... It speaks of the Bread of Affliction, it recalls the slavery in Egypt, and it hopes that we will be free next year. I want that freedom very much for all of us - Israelis and Palestinians. I do not want us to continue to be 'worst oppressors' or conquerors and controllers of another people and I believe that we cannot be the truly free people we want and deserve to be until we free ourselves
The truth, as is evident from Usiskin's writing as well, is that in approaching national and social liberation we are talking about two aspects and the same thing. Jewish claims to rights were always based on justice and never based on power. The racist Islamist leader, Mahathir Muhamed put this another way, when he insisted that modern principles of human rights were a nefarious invention of the clever Jews, contrived in order to grant us freedom. He said of the Jews,
They invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others.
Likewise, the Hamas charter blames the Jews and the freemasons for the French Revolution.
We Jews must plead guilty to promoting human rights, though perhaps we did not invent them. Of course, human rights must extend to everyone. Muslims are often surprised to learn that the "Zionist" Bnai-Brith Ant-Defamation League is a champon of the rights of Muslims as well as other wronged minorities. Jewish national liberation has to be based on the aspiration of freedom for all peoples To deny that it is so, is to efface a vital part of Jewish culture and tradition, a part that is as essentially Jewish as our connection to Jerusalem and the land of Israel.
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