Thursday, April 17, 2014

A surprise arrival at this year's Seder: not Elijah, but the Palestinians


     Religion is supposed to impose hardships and obligations. That’s the whole point.  Fulfilling them, you earn your spot on the team. It’s a kind of hazing.
     Thus I look at puzzlement at those who rip through their Seders in an hour. Why not dye Easter eggs while you’re at it? What’s the rush? My kin do the full, six-hour, sail-past-midnight, 14-point, Kiddush-to-conclusion Passover meal, with frequent pauses for questions and comments and readings.
     At the Seder, we tell of Exodus, the flight from Egypt. Thus much about freedom from biblical bondage and from smaller, modern slaveries. Monday we ceremoniously shut off our cellphones. I read Shelley’s ode to the futility of ego, “Ozymandias,” whose shattered pharaoh’s “sneer of cold command” surveys the empty sands. “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
     So not just our Egyptian slavery, but slavery in its many forms. My wife read the Emancipation Proclamation, and we spoke about the lingering pernicious influence of black slavery. Native Americans got their due. Other ostracized groups too; women were mentioned. An orange on the Seder plate, used to symbolize the inclusion of women, now is applied to gays and lesbians. We don’t confine our left leaning to pillows.
     One by one, suffering groups were named. Slowly, something began to dawn on me.
     It jelled during the answer to the Four Questions: "We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt and the Eternal our God brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Now if God had not brought out our forefathers from Egypt, then even we, our children, and our children's children, might still have been enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt."
     Hmm. "Our children and our children's children." That made me think of a particular group not being drawn under the blanket of liberal Jewish goodwill toward everyone oppressed. I sucked my front teeth and pondered. Just my loving family here. No risk. And yet. Should I? Nobody likes someone siding with the enemy. The day before, two Jewish centers in Kansas were shot up; we sympathized with those victims, too, even though they weren't Jewish. Big-hearted people, embattled people, that's us.
     At one point in the Seder, you flick a few drops out of your wine glass to symbolize, among other things, the suffering of the Egyptians, perishing so we could be free.
     "You know, " I finally announced, "we don't have to go back to biblical times to find people suffering so we can be free. Metaphors are imperfect, and they certainly aren't slaves. But as I'm reading this, all the 'stranger in a land not their own' business, I can't help but think of the Palestinians."
     Silence. Everybody looked at me. I pushed onward. "The question I always ask is: 'What's going to happen next?' Because both sides get lost rehashing history. I'm not saying to put a bowl of chickpeas on the Seder plate to represent the Palestinians. But why not mention them? This is about freedom, and Israel is being pushed, however unwillingly, into the Pharaoh role. The world increasingly sees them as Pharaoh, and not without justification. That's bad. We need to do all we can so Israel doesn't become Pharaoh." Or words to that effect.
     Is that bad? What's the point of being Jewish? To eat matzo balls and spend six hours — or 60 minutes — conducting a ritual meal, pausing to recount what a raw deal we had in Egypt 3,000 years ago? And how great it is for us to be free now and how we care so deeply about the freedom of every marginal group on the planet except for the one we have a hand in oppressing, since doing so would question our loyalty to the spunky little nation we so love that has done us proud, the past decade notwithstanding?
     Three choices: The 4.5 million Palestinians either, a) form their own state, b) remain captive in an expanding Jewish state, or c) are assimilated and the state isn't Jewish anymore. The first option is best —75 percent of Israelis support it. The second is the status quo and untenable over time. The third is bad only if being Jewish means something beyond representing just another flavor of self-interest.
     I thought Jews were supposed to stand for something more. I thought, having suffered, we are attuned to suffering. That having been slaves, we should then be reluctant pharaohs. If nothing happens, the problem will be handed to our children and our children's children. Not to minimize the difficulty, but Exodus was easy in comparison. There God helped. This he has left to us. Something to think about while nibbling your matzo this week: If Jews are so smart, why can't we figure this out?

23 comments:

  1. advocate of the anti-ChristApril 17, 2014 at 1:09 AM

    You list three possible outcomes, but not the one that we who support the Palestinian cause, including anti-Zionist people from Jewish backgrounds, such as myself, support--not the "assimilation" of the Palestinians into isreal as a result the state no longer being "Jewish," but the victory of the Palestinian people over israel so that Palestine--from the river to the sea--can be free, and israel can be abolished. It is clear that you oppose that result, but it is utterly strange for you not to even list it as one of the alternatives, since probably upwards of a billion people word wide--possibly more--support that alternative. Yes it is a tiny minority opinion in the U.S. and even more so in the Jewish community, but you shouldn't pretend that it is an opinion that simply does not exist. Those of us in the BDS support movement are working tirelessly every day to help make it a reality and so are the Palestinian people, who in their vast majority are determined to fight on until final total victory, no matter what the cost. Long live Palestine, from the river to the sea! Next year in Jerusalem--all the millions of Palestinian refugees, who have the absolute right to return.

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    1. Genocide is rarely a popular option save among those who would benefit from it.

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    2. "The right of return" is notional and shorthand for "kill the Jews." What, if I may ask, gingerly, is the "BDS support movement?"

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    3. BDS is a organized effort with its own website which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against what they consider to be an "apartheid" Israel. The problem for Israel is how to make peace with people who want to kill you. BDS is fast becoming a "cause" among many who disguise their anti-Semitism by saying they are pro-Palestinian.

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    4. Larry from NorthbrookApril 18, 2014 at 2:35 PM

      Thank you David. One of my favorites is when people choose to really brag about their ignorance (hello Jimmy Carter) when they label Israel as apartheid. Really? Look away "Advocate", and other BDS folk, facts ahead:
      Last year, 220,000 West Bank Palestinians, including 20,000 Palestinian children visited Israeli hospitals for medical treatment. Yup, apartheid.
      In the "Jewish"/Israeli army serving as commanders, officers and soldiers are: Ethiopians, Beduin Arabs, Christian Arabs, Moslem Arabs, Druse and Circassians (Moslems originally from the Northern Caucuses). The world famous Golani Brigade is led by a Druse Brigadier General. Yup, apartheid.
      About twenty percent of the students at Israeli universities, (and 30% at Haifa university), are Arabs. There are Arab professors and lecturers mixing with their Israeli colleagues. BDS folks, I hope you're sitting down: The Palestinian, Bargouti, leader of the world-wide anti-Israel boycott (BDS) movement, which bases itself on alleged Israeli apartheid, is a student at Tel Aviv University.
      Israel`s Declaration of Independence and subsequent Basic Laws specifically provide for full democratic and human rights for all.
      But ok, you're right, there is apartheid in the area after all:
      The Palestinians have legislation forbidding the sale of property to Jews; the sentence for disobeying is death.
      There are no Jews or Israelis living in Areas A & B under Palestinian Authority control.
      The Palestinians have announced that no Jews or Israelis will be entitled to live in their state after it is founded.
      Facts BDS folks and "advocate".







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  2. Congrats on a thoughtful piece, Neil. I had always thought of you as an "Israel can do no wrong" type, but either you've evolved or I was misreading you in the first place.

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  3. The latter. The consulate here won't even talk to me.

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  4. Making peace with people who want to kill you may seem an insuperable obstacle, but it's how all wars end. It's true that the wrong kind of religious ferver complicates matters in the region. In the words of the Israeli journalist Amos Elon, "In Jerusalem, hatred has often been another form of prayer."

    Re Mr. Anti-Christ's desire for the eradication of Israel, its true that such a project might kill many Jews, but the military reality is that a whole lot more Palestinians would meet their maker. Shouldn't happen. Won't happen. And it isn't an alternative worth consideration.

    Since Christ has been dragged into the discussion, albeit in a manner intended to provoke, crimes have been commited in his name over the centuries, but his example and teachings might be worthy of consideration by those seeking solutions to intractable problems involving ancient enmities. It's hard to imagine the God of the Old Testement or the warrior prophet Mohammed suggesting the other cheek be turned or proclaiming that "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God."

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  5. Thank you for the piece and the column. I read you regularly. I have been to one Seder, sponsored by two lesbian friends, and it was a memorable experience. I was happy to be included. Peace!

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  6. advocate of the anti-ChristApril 18, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Right of return is not code for kill the Jews. It means respecting the rights of the millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland

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    1. However, you do want to kill Israel as a nation - right? And if you do that, what happens to the Jews who will now be living in Palestine? Do you honestly think that they would be safe surrounded by millions of Palestinians who hate them?

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    2. Larry from NorhtbrookApril 18, 2014 at 2:15 PM

      Catch up on some history "Advocate", it never was their homeland. Read. Rather than spread silliness. It's not about the land, never was, never will be, ever. In 1967, when Egypt and Syria had the land (Gaza, Golan Heights, Sinai), why would they go to war with Israel? I just don't get it, help me understand...the land WAS already in Arab hands. Somehow, now, Israel should give it back? Don't be silly, it's not about the land.

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  7. BDS is a global movement, not one website. Neil, frankly, if you are not even familiar with the term, you don't know the facts about the Palestinian support movement. At least read the wikipedia article so you have the facts next time you write about this so that you can at least refer to this viewpoint and represent waty it is, even if you hate it. That's only fair. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boycott,_Divestment_and_Sanctions

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    1. So is Esperanto. Not being familiar with your buzzword acronym isn't the same as not knowing the facts. Boycotting Israel shows, at its base, an ignorance of the rest of the world, because it means you happily buy products from far worse oppressors -- hello, China -- because Israel is somehow especially bad ... hmmm, and why is that? You have to remember, you hated Israel before it occupied anywhere, and you hated Jews before they ran Israel. Kind of takes the steam out of your argument, though of course you can't grasp or accept that.

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    2. Neil, I don't hate Jews, I am from a Jewish family. I had a Bar Mitzvah at age 13, but am not currently religious. As you would know if you took a few minutes to explore, many activists of organizations like the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, or Jewish Voice for Peace, headquartered in Berkeley and with a Chicago chapter, or Students for Palestine with chapters on many campuses, are Jewish. We are a small but growing minority. And yes I oppose the existence of Israel, the occupation that started in 198--calling occupation what occurred after 1967 is your narrative, not ours.

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    3. "I oppose the existence of Israel" -- as opposed to any other country in the world. Why? What you believe, and what you think you believe, are two different things. There are all sorts of weird, self-deceptive notions rattling around out there. I once met a man who said he wasn't gay, but lived as a woman and dated men. O...kay... Not quite straight either, though. So you're Jewish but, out of all the nations on earth, you "oppose the existence of Israel." And being Jewish, or calling yourself Jewish, gets you off the hook for that bit of malice? I like Thai food, but if I opposed the existence of Thailand, because of my issues with the monarchy, what would it mean? You burrow down, and you don't want Jews to have a country -- you aren't against other people having a country, though, are you? Sounds like hating Jews to me. That you're oblivious of it, well, most haters don't see themselves that way. Every Southern bigot with an axe handle in the 1950s was a hero defending the sanctity of pure white womanhood, or some such thing.

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  8. Trying to be calm here Neil. That was quite a good piece you wrote, as much as I disagree, it sure shook me and many others up. Prior to 1900 there was no such concept as the Palestinian People. That, directly from the Palestinian National Authority's web site. These people came from neighboring Arab states: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Yet Israel somehow "belongs" to them. Right, sure. I love how the BDS folk and such have no problem avoiding facts. If they did, and weren't just swept along by the media, and the trendy, there wouldn't be any BDS. But even if I'm wrong, how many times was the "Palestinian" leadership offered their own country and they refused? If the Arab states and "Palestinians" accepted UN Resolution 181 in 1947, there would be not one "Palestinian" refugee today, and they'd have their own country for over 60 years. Too long ago? Ok, how about 1978, Camp David Accords. Sadat begged Arafat to accept what he negotiated with Israel but, shock! Arafat refused. How about 2000, Camp David, Clinton. Arafat simply left the table, started more terror attacks. More facts, so, just ignore that, BDS folk. It isn't nor ever was, nor ever will be about the land. It's about ending the Jewish state. Period. I don't recall Pharaoh ever offering such to the Jews. It's so popular to try to make the Jews the bad guys, as history gets muddled, and changed, and ignored. Finally, tell me, BDS folk, what country in the Middle East offers Arabs enjoy the most freedom? By far. Yup, Israel. I'll sit back and wait to be bashed and have words put in my mouth by the many who just don't "get" it. Nor ever will.

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  9. You can't reach an agreement when one side refuses to accept Jews and the nation of Israel right to exist. It doesn't matter if Palestinians gain their own state; the conflict will never end.

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    1. Well, that settles it then. While you're predicting the future, care to share with us who'll win the Super Bowl in 2015? No? You can't? Then how can you be so certain? Geez. "Never."

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    2. "Never" is too strong of a word but for the foreseeable future I don't expect peace to break out in the middle-east. Do you see any reasons for optimism?

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    3. It's mean of me to pick on Wendy, but I can't pass this up. Sorry! I'm not sure who she has in the 2015 Super Bowl, Neil, but I can tell you that she seemed pretty confident on Zorn's blog that Denver was going to beat Seattle in 2014! ; )

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    4. Not good at picking Superbowl winners, to be sure. Just as well, I can't foresee a winning resolution in the Palestine/Israel eternal conflict.

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  10. I had a look at the BDS website, and it certainly isn't anywhere I would go to for a balanced look at anything, but, to be fair, the Israelis have a much stronger voice in U.S. media.

    Like most Americans I support Israel, but worry about its future as it, by dint of occupation, takes on the trappings of a colonial power. As Dryden put it a few centuries back: "And when the chosen people grew more strong, The rightful cause at length became the wrong."

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.