Five years ago I was flying home from London just in time for the first Passover Seder. I wrote an essay which I ended up delivering as a guest sermon to my synagogue the following year before Passover, and I have read at my family’s Seder every year since (for reasons I will not go into this year I did not read it). However in light of what is going on in Ukraine this year, I felt I should share it with a wider audience. Please feel free to share the link… I wonder what Vladimir Putin might say to it! –MDG
This night we sit in defiance.
As a people we have for centuries – even millennia – adjusted, fit in, integrated into the societies that surrounded us. We were a displaced people who have lived in too many civilizations to list or count. Some of those civilizations embraced us, many more tolerated us.
Most of us who live in the Diaspora do not remember what it was like from the destruction through 1948. If this country tomorrow were to pass a law barring Jews – ridiculous as that may sound – we have somewhere to go, a country where we will always be welcome, accepted, and truly home. It has not always been like that.
Tonight, this night, the first night of Passover we sit in defiance of those who have turned on us, enslaved us, humiliated us, oppressed us, and killed us. US, and not them; our ancestors are us and we are they because if we were to find ourselves in their place we would not have been spared. On this night we sit around magnificent and opulent tables, openly celebrating our holiday; we do so in defiance not only of the Pharaohs of Egypt but of the Emperors of Rome; of the Hamans, of the leaders both of countries and of churches who have banned our celebrations; we sit in defiance of the Spanish of the 15th century and of Adolph Hitler in the 20th century; we defy the terrorists who would push us into the sea and of anyone who would tell us that on the first night of Passover we should not celebrate and remember.
Why do we celebrate Passover? Why is the Passover Seder different from all other nights? Why is it so vitally important for us to gather around, lean comfortably in cushioned chairs, and read the story of our enslavement and exodus? It is not only because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but we were persecuted over the millennia by Greeks and Romans and Spanish and Germans and so many others – most of whom are confined to the annals of History now – who would be disappointed, upset, and outraged to know that we are still here reading the story of the exodus from Egypt. We read the same story every year and must never forget, because it could happen again if we let it.
Of course it is a ridiculous concept that a country such as Canada, the United States, or Great Britain would ever pass such a law. These are, after all, the most liberated societies in the world where people are free to be what they want, think what they want. These are countries where Jews live, work, and contribute to not only religious but also secular society; they own property and businesses, work in every job imaginable. Jews in our countries are comfortable because over the decades and for some even centuries they have become a part of the fabric of the secular societies of which we are a part. Laws like that could never be passed here, now, to us.
In the 1930s when Germany passed the Nuremberg Laws stripping rights from Jews they had lived, worked, and contributed to not only the religious but also the secular society of that country for hundreds of years. They owned property and businesses, worked in every job imaginable; they were comfortable because over the decades and centuries they became a part of the fabric of the secular society of which they were a part. Millions of them went to their deaths because they did not fathom that it could really happen here, now, to them.
In 1492 when the Spanish Inquisition gave Jews the option to leave, convert, or die they had been a part of that society for decades and centuries. They owned properties and businesses and worked in every job imaginable; they were comfortable because over the decades and centuries they became a part of the fabric of the secular society of which they were a part. The torture and humiliation and death and displacement took them by surprise but it happened, and the one country in Europe where Jews had known they were welcome and safe turned on them violently and thoroughly.
There are of course huge differences between then and now; however the only way to ensure that it will never happen again is to not let it ever happen again. As Jews we must not let it happen; we cannot be meek and we cannot be quiet, we must speak out and rise up and let the world know that we will never again be enslaved, persecuted, and slaughtered… always and loudly and with a resolution that will remind the world that Jews as a people and the Children of Israel as a nation are strong.
The State of Israel is a dichotomy to the ill-informed. It is a nation craving peace that is constantly at war; a nation of love that is the target of so much hate; a nation of hope amidst infinite despair. It has been a refuge for millions fleeing persecution around the world; escaping the Holocaust in Europe, persecution in Africa and the Middle East, poverty and troubles in the Soviet Union and then Russia. Israel offers Jews no matter where they are from a homeland when they want it, crave it, seek it, or need it. Likewise it is the guarantee that Jews will never again be rounded up and slaughtered.
For those who might waver in their support for Israel when the army is accused of wrongdoing they should consider what its enemies would do to it were the balance of power reversed. If Israel should elect a leader that they do not endorse whether they be right wing or left remember some of the leaders chosen by its neighbours such as Hafez Assad, Saddam Hussein, and the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Tonight we sit in defiance of them and countless more. We sit in defiance of Bashir Assad and Mahmoud Ahmedinijad and so many more who would not only deny the right of the Jews to a homeland, but to their very existence…
…and never again allow us to be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.