Once again as we have done since the Exodus of our ancestors from Egypt, Jews worldwide will be sitting down together with family and friends to recount the dramas associated with that history making event so long ago.
In between prayers, songs and food, the lessons of the Festival of Pesach will be transmitted to a new generation in the same way that we learnt it from our parents and if we were lucky, our grandparents.
I often wonder, especially at this time of the year, what thoughts flashed through the minds of those who celebrated this Festival in times of pogroms, persecution and fear of being Jewish. What great amount of courage was needed to defy the inquisition by celebrating the Seder rituals in secret, always knowing that the slightest slip would result in arrest and burning at the stake by the representatives of a Church which professed love and turning the other cheek?
I try to put myself in the shoes of those Jews living in Shtetels throughout Europe who endured rampaging mobs, incited by local Church authorities, at this time of the year. I think of those Jews in Germany, including my own relatives, who, from 1933 faced a concerted campaign of delegitimisation and despite every obstacle, still managed to observe Passover. It is not that long ago when I remember the travails of the Jews in the former Soviet Union and how they were denied the opportunity of learning and observing their traditions & Faith and how we kept an empty seat at our Seder table in the symbolic hope that one day, hopefully in our lifetime, these captive Jews would be allowed their freedom, both physical and spiritual.
During the darkest days of the Holocaust many of our brethren risked their lives in ghettos and concentration camps to recite the narrative of our redemption and hope, no matter how remote that idea might have seemed, that soon the Jewish People would be redeemed from a nightmare of hate and death and witness the return of the exiles “next year in Jerusalem.” Down through the ages, in every generation, we prayed and looked forward to a time when we would return joyfully to our Land.
It was our privilege that we were the generation which witnessed this modern resurrection of the Jewish People. However, guess what? There are still those who wish to deny us our title deeds to the Land of Israel and who work day and night to destroy not only our country but also to complete the genocides which previous haters never managed to achieve. From Fatah, PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and other assorted Jew hating groups to Iran, there is no shortage in our time of those who wish to destroy us. Therefore as we recite the saga of Passover this year we should bear in mind that the Amalekites and their descendants are very much alive in our time.
In every generation not only are there those who rise up to destroy us but unfortunately there are also those amongst us who try to ignore or sweep the threat under the carpet. Just as there were Hebrews who preferred to remain in Egypt or even to return there rather than enter the Promised Land, so today we have the spectacle of Jews who pretend that one can live a glorious Jewish life in places where not only are they at risk physically but where the very fundamentals of Judaism are under attack.
In our generation we are witness to a rising tide of delegitimisation concerning the practice of Shechita for Kosher food, Brit Milah (circumcision) and in some places the attempt to ban the wearing of kippot (skull caps). The rise of anti Jewish political parties in other countries does not bode well for the future, especially if the economic situation continues to deteriorate.
The revisionist historians who try to deny the Holocaust combined with revisionist Moslem/Arabs who attempt to deny the Jewish connection to Israel are now more brazen than ever before. Just as our ancestors faced physical and spiritual onslaughts alone and more or less abandoned by the rest of humanity so today Israel and Jews face the same threats while the international community either looks the other way, makes weak sounding noises or actively works to undermine our very security and future.
In every generation there are those who blame the Jews for any misfortune which may have occurred. We have seen it so many times in the past and today we witness it yet again. I have lost count of the number of times Israel has been blamed for everything from natural disasters to plots of various types, all designed to stigmatize the Jewish State. That old hoary libel of Jewish groups trying to control the globe, influence Governments and exert some sort of malignant evil over others is alive and well. That’s not paranoia, it is fact. In recent days two more examples have surfaced. John Kerry (alias poof the magic dragon) has predictably blamed Israel for refusing to agree to its own demise. Bob Carr in his diary blamed powerful Jewish groups for having an unhealthy influence in Canberra. Do you by any chance discern a familiar pattern?
In past generations we could only look for salvation by praying and hoping for the best. Today we are fortunate that in addition to our prayers and reliance on divine assistance, we are able to exert ourselves in a far more robust manner than was available to us in previous generations. In many conversations I have had over the years with individuals one of the most frustrating aspects has been their attitude that we must not remember the lessons of our past history. It is almost as if we are continually responsible for our own misfortunes and therefore according to many people we must appease and feel guilty for the fact that there are still groups out there who hate us. There are those who feel that really no threat exists and that we who think there is are suffering from some form of paranoia. All we have to do is smile, act nicely and the rest of humanity will finally love us.
This time of the year should effectively dispel these foolish notions because the proof is starkly clear for anyone who wants to see the truth. As we open the door for the prophet Elijah and recite the statements written so long ago we cannot escape the validity of those words. Let us hope and pray that in our generation we will be privileged to see the final eradication of hate against the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. Remember, it depends on us also doing something about it.
Chag Sameach – a happy Festival celebration.