The rituals of the Passover seder hold within them a vital insight. The story of our journey from slavery in Egypt toward freedom in Israel is told in the past tense but recreated in the present. Through re-enactment, we learn that history must be experienced as though it is unfolding before our eyes. Similarly, if our conversation with our children at the seder is solely about the Jewish past and ignores what Jewish freedom means for the present, we will have missed the mark.
The freedom of the Jewish people is as relevant as ever. Our very right to national liberation and renaissance, as embodied in the Jewish state, is directly challenged on so many levels today – including from fringe voices within our people.
In the coming days, a handful of anti-Zionist Jews will be holding “liberation seders” in a few Canadian cities, as advertised by the so-called Jewish Liberation Theology Institute. Pro-BDS groups like Independent Jewish Voices and a local chapter of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East are listed among the endorsers, sponsors and partners. The organizers have declared: “This year’s seders honour and pay tribute to the Great March of Return.” This apparently refers to the weekly march organized by Hamas over the past year, in which it has mobilized tens of thousands of Gazans to protest (often violently) at Israel’s border fence.
Hamas routinely uses these protests as cover for attempts to infiltrate Israel and attack Israeli troops at the fence. Tens of thousands of Israelis living in the south have been terrorized by Palestinian arson attacks. Throughout the past year, Israeli soldiers have been wounded and at least one (21-year-old Aviv Levi) was murdered by a Palestinian sniper at the border.
And readers are well familiar with the painful results inside Gaza, including the tragic deaths of Palestinians who were sent by Hamas to the fence in a contrived attempt to distract attention from its own misrule. Israelis and Jewish Canadians alike are saddened by the ongoing misery experienced by Gazans, the author of which is Hamas.
That Jews would honour such a “march” begs a bigger question: when does Jewish anti-Zionism become Jewish anti-Semitism? We would not hesitate to call out those beyond our community who lend credibility to Hamas. So too must we condemn the behaviour of Jews who lead BDS campaigns against Israelis, target respected Jewish organizations like the Jewish National Fund, and falsely claim that Zionism can be erased from the core identity of the Jewish people. Such activities are clearly aimed at offering a hechsher – a “kosher seal of approval” – for non-Jewish, anti-Zionist activists to falsely claim immunity from legitimate charges of anti-Semitism.
Unsurprisingly, their message has been resoundingly dismissed by our community. Consider the results of a recent public opinion study of the Canadian Jewish community by Environics, with the support of York University and University of Toronto – as well as sponsorship from several federations. Nearly nine in ten respondents said “caring about Israel” is either “essential” or “important” to their identity. Significantly fewer respondents said the same about attending synagogue, observing Jewish law, and participating in Jewish cultural activities. More than eight in ten see the Government of Canada’s current support for Israel as either “about right” or “not supportive enough”. The same poll showed healthy differences of opinion on particular Israeli policies, such as settlements.
In other words, Zionism remains one of the strongest pillars of Canadian Jewish identity. Canadian Jewry believes that Canada’s support for Israel should continue and grow. And within this Zionist consensus, there is a broad spectrum of opinion toward Israeli policy issues.
In contrast, and returning to the theme of Passover, those Jews who dedicate themselves to anti-Zionist stunts may be likened not to the wicked child who attends – but challenges – the seder. Rather, perhaps they are more akin to the unnamed fifth child, who has made a conscious decision to cut him- or herself off from the entire liberation experience.
How else can we describe a Jew who uses our history of liberation as a cynical prop to delegitimize our national freedom today? How else can we interpret a seder conducted to “honour” a march orchestrated by terrorists who seek Israel’s destruction?
Passover is probably the most widely embraced Jewish holiday. Many Jews who are not particularly engaged in Jewish ritual plan their seder with meticulous enthusiasm. Many others who rarely enter a synagogue cherish their family’s annual seders. These are the two days in which many Jews feel most connected to their roots and their people.
This is why it is so important to keep Israel on the table throughout our seder. We must do so in a way that embraces and encourages different opinions within the Zionist tent. We must welcome questions and concerns. But we must not hesitate to celebrate Israel as the centrepiece of Jewish freedom, both past and present. Especially when some would use our seder traditions as a shameful excuse to deny that truth.