Isi Leibler: At Passover, Israelis have reason to rejoice

This week, most Israelis, secular as well as observant, are celebrating Passover, the festival of freedom in which we recount our life of slavery and exodus from Egypt and how we became a nation. 

The Haggadah that we read at the Passover Seder also carries a universal theme of human rights but its focus is the Jewish people, stressing our shared past and our aspirations for a renewal of Jewish sovereignty during 2,000 years of harrowing exile, endless persecutions, expulsion and attempted genocide.

We read in the Haggadah that “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us. But the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from them.” We appeal to the Almighty to “pour out Thy wrath” against the wicked and destroy them.

The Haggadah recounts the Egyptians’ pattern of Jew-hatred: They envied the prosperity of their Jewish minority, enslaved and ultimately engaged in genocide with Pharaoh’s decree to drown all newborn Jewish males. This pattern has recurred throughout the generations as we faced successive enemies: the pagans, the church, secular racist Jew-haters, Nazis, and communists. And today there is a global tsunami of anti-Semitism, especially in Europe where Jews are being transformed into pariahs.

The current threat emanates from the bizarre combination of Islamists and radical leftists who are renewing the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda of the 1930s that was a precursor to the Holocaust. In its current manifestation, it is also directed against the Jewish national homeland -- the only nation-state in the world whose right to exist is under threat.

It is horrifying to observe the culture of death and destruction in the Middle East, the barbaric bloodbaths and millions of civilians displaced from their homes. When we witness the Iranian leaders repeatedly proclaiming their genocidal objectives, we are instinctively reminded of Amalek.

But on Passover, we give thanks to the Almighty and rejoice that our days of powerlessness belong to the past and that we are now strong enough to deter and if necessary overcome the combined forces of all our adversaries. Today we have a State of Israel that provides a haven to all Jews wishing to settle in the Jewish homeland.

Other elements in the Haggadah resonate with different issues facing us today. Hah lahma anya (the bread of affliction) reminds us not to be complacent and to be concerned about the poor and needy and of the scandal of the neglected elderly Holocaust survivors who have been denied the minimum material support to enable them to live out their few remaining years in dignity.

A discussion of the Four Sons can relate to the identity challenges facing Israelis and Diaspora Jews.

The chacham, the wise son, is the committed Jew.

The “tam”, the simple son, and “she’eino yodea lishol,” the one who does not know to ask, are the products of assimilation and loss of Jewish identity.

This includes those deprived of a Jewish education by their parents or those who are apathetic, lazy and unsophisticated, with no desire to acquaint themselves with their Jewish heritage. Ultimately, many become indifferent and disappear.

The “rasha,” the wicked son, symbolizes those Jews who vilify their people. In the contemporary context, this includes Jews engaged in public efforts to undermine Israel, those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and those allying themselves with our enemies against the Jewish state. Alas, of late, several prominent American Jewish leaders have joined this category.

In Israel, their counterparts are those who seek to transform Israel from a Jewish state to a state of all its citizens or who promote the false narrative of those seeking our destruction.

The Haggadah poses problems for secular humanist interpretations of history because reason alone cannot explain the unprecedented events associated with our ongoing national renaissance. If one objectively reviews our status, the host of fortuitous “coincidences” that we have witnessed since the rebirth of a Jewish state, there is a strong case to consider that our survival and thriving existence after 2,000 years of dispersion is no less miraculous than the Exodus from Egypt.

The greatest miracle was the re-establishment of a Jewish state, which rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust, when at the United Nations, during the height of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union for the first time voted together in favor of the creation of a Jewish state. Subsequently, the fledgling state, against all odds, defeated the combined forces of surrounding Arab states, which was later followed with the miracle of the Six-Day War.

Another miracle key to Israel’s survival has been kibbutz galuyot -- the ingathering of the exiles -- in which Jews from all corners of the world, from the former Soviet Union to Ethiopia, made aliyah, swelling Israel’s Jewish population from 600,0000 in 1948 to over 6 million today. Israel has successfully integrated new immigrants, molding them into a vibrant nation in which ancient Hebrew was revived as a living language. We have benefitted from a mass aliyah which ensued from the extraordinary liberation of Soviet Jewry, spearheaded by a few hundred assimilated Jews who courageously triumphed against the most powerful totalitarian country in the world.

In addition, tiny Israel is now ranked as one of the 10 most powerful global military forces, boasting a powerful economy and dazzling high-tech achievements that are the wonder of the world. Israel’s unique desalinization of water has provided solutions to drought and the recent discovery of major gas deposits has enormous potential.

On the international level, we are optimistic at the prospect of a genuine alliance with the Trump administration and the cordial positive relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Most recently, we see signs of an unofficial thawing of tensions and a covert partnership with moderate Muslim states confronting Iranian hegemony.

Finally, despite barbaric warmongering neighbors committed to our destruction, Israel remains the only democracy in this turbulent region, and notwithstanding the challenges, Israelis rank among the happiest people in the world.

Alas, many youngsters take our status for granted and do not appreciate the privilege of being the most blessed Jewish generation since our exile 2,000 years ago.

Yet when confronted with these extraordinary circumstances, an increasing number of Israelis are moving closer to belief in a God who made a covenant with the Jewish people and acceptance of the role of divine providence in our current day miracles.

As we celebrate Passover, we give thanks to the Almighty that the concluding prayer of the Haggadah, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” highlighting the centrality of Israel in Jewish life and recited throughout 2,000 years of exile in the Diaspora, has miraculously been realized in our lifetime.

We should pray that God will continue to watch over His people and provide them with peace and security.

Chag sameach!

Isi Leibler is a former vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He resides in Jerusalem.

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