are the two traditional holidays that together represent the distillation of the Zionist spirit. Passover in particular, is one of the cultural vehicles that enabled the Jewish people to maintain our national identity over 2,000 years. Culturally, it unites - or confounds - religion, social justice and the Jewish national struggle.
Passover is celebrated by religious Jews and secular Jews alike both in Israel and the United States. 94% of Israeli Jews will celebrate the Seder this year, though the percentage of "observant" or religious or "traditional" Jews is much lower. This universal celebration is due to the fact that Passover is a national holiday as well as a religious one. The theme of material liberation from slavery into nationhood by divine intervention shows how the three ideas - religious, national and social - are closely interwoven in whatever it is that constitutes "Judaism," and it has been so for thousands of years.
Historians may dispute whether or not there was ever really an Exodus from Egypt or whether or not Moses existed. If there were no such events, there is still an essential truth in the Pessah holiday. People fashion their national myths or select the historical facts that fit their image. The Roman foundation myths were that they were descended from gods or Greek heros of the Trojan war. The Jewish "myth" is that we were born of slaves, and that our nation came into being as the result of a struggle against tremendous odds, and that we were victorious because our cause was just. True or not, it must be significant that the story of our humble origins as slaves has been repeated and believed for thousands of years.
The theme of the just few against the unjust many replays itself time and again in Jewish history and the Jewish national myth, and became a central theme of Western Civilization, both through the universal adoption of the Old Testament
as well as the Jewish-inspired teachings of Jesus, and in our own time because of works of popular culture like Superman and other fighters for truth and justice created by Jews or popularized by Hollywood. Mahathir Mohamed and the Hamas
"blame" the Jews for furthering democratic ideals and social justice, and for being responsible for such "crimes" as the French Revolution. We must plead guilty on those scores. The ideals of social justice and democracy are confounded with both our religion and our national self-image and have been a part of our culture since the time of the prophets, if not before. When Iranian professors point out that Mickey Mouse and other cartoon heros are enemies of Islam created by "Zionists" there is a tiny germ of truth in their fulminations. Disney, and Hanna and Barbera were not Jewish or Zionist, but the theme of the weak triumphing over the strong but unjust was transmitted in no small measure through the Judeo-Christian tradition. Warner brothers, who employed cartoonists Hanna and Barbera to draw those evil Zionist bunny rabbits pigs and other cartoon characters, were Jewish, but Hanna and Barbera, I am told, were of Lebanese origin.
It is not surprising that the story of Passover was adopted and repeated by our African slave brothers in the United States, and gave hope and inspiration to generations of slaves.
Because the ideas of social justice and democracy are so central to Judaism and Zionism, "Progressive Zionism" should, in an ideal world, bea redundant phrase. There can't be any real Zionism that is not progressive, and there can't be any really progressive Jewish thought that is not Zionist.
Passover is also, of course, one of the traditions that has helped to transmit love of Israel and proto-Zionism, and keep the hope of Jewish national revival alive. For nearly 2000 years, the Jewish people swore, "Next Year in Jerusalem"
until conditions made it possible for us to fulfil our vow. The vow "Next year in Jerusalem" disproves the contention of anti-Zionists that Jewish national feeling was not a part of Judaism, or that it is possible to be Jewish without being Zionist. If you are not Zionist, then you are lying when you recite the Passover Hagaddah.
What can we say to these people, who look upon the work of Zionism and dissociate themselves from it? Are they not like the evil son in the Passover Hagaddah recital, who asks, "What is all this work to you?" And shouldn't we answer them as the evil son is answered in the Haggadah, that as they have renounced their part in the work of national liberation, they will not be saved.
A happy, Zionist and progressive Passover. Ami Isseroff
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