Bli atzmaot musarit v’ruchanit lo titachen atzmaot l’umit / Without intellectual and spiritual independence, there can be no functional independence as a people. David Ben-Gurion
Hashata hacha l’shana ha’aba b’ara d’yisrael. Hashata avdey l’shna h’aba b’nei chorin. / This year we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free people. Haggadah Shel Pesach
I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous – if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men. Robert G. Ingersoll, The Ghosts and Other Lectures
Those who will not reason are bigots, those who cannot, are fools and those who dare not are slaves. George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron)
Freedom, this is what I call freedom
Well, I wanna say, I wanna tell you I wanna say when you can do what you wanna do And go where you wanna go And live where you wanna live And love who you wanna love
And be what you wanna be Join what you wanna join Well, well, well, that’s freedom Yeah, yeah, freedom, yes sir
When you can learn what you wanna learn And read what you wanna read Free, Free, Free
And write what you wanna write Free, Free, Free Do what you feel is right Free, Free, Free “Freedom,” by the Isley Brothers
Above (as I do every month according to the theme) I have placed a number of quotes and lyrics that touch on the issue of “freedom.” Freedom is a big issue. For many, freedom is the main theme of the Pesach Seder. However, I take issue with one of the above quotes. You may be surprised that I disagree with the quote taken from the Haggadah.
The quote from the Haggadah is a relic of a time when Jews lived scattered among the nations, despised, victimized, powerless, and bullied. The religious faith of the Jews strengthened them and kept them on course. We could withstand the daily abuse and humiliation and our lowly status in both the Christian and Muslim worlds because we believed that soon would come miraculous redemption. The concept of Mashiach and redemption created by the early rabbis during the period of Roman occupation and oppression offered hope and an explanation of our status and how it would be changed. During the Seder, which served as a simulacrum of the Torah’s legend of the exodus from slavery in Egypt to self-rule in the Promised Land, we prayed that the next Seder would find us freed of our shackles of oppression as unwelcome guests barely tolerated in foreign lands and that we would live open, stress-free lives as Jews in our own land. This medicine was a great balm for the wounded Jewish soul. However, for most of us this prescription has expired.
Today we live comfortable lives openly as Jews and free of oppression here in the United States. Yes, certainly anti-Semitism still occasionally rears its ugly head, but it is an aberration of American life, an exception to the rule. A Pew poll recently demonstrated that while a small percentage of the population holds anti-Semitic views, Jews are regarded more favorably than any other religious group in the country. More importantly, today we all have a share in the State of Israel, the world’s only independent Jewish state, replete with every governmental institution, free elections, a free press, public debate in all of its democratic raucousness, its own minorities protected by law, religious disputes, an entertainment industry, an advanced scientific establishment, and a highly sophisticated, technologically superior Jewish military to protect it all.
The words of the Haggadah can seem to ring hollow and irrelevant to us Jews here and in Israel.
However, in other parts of the world Jews are under siege. In France, the UK, and Scandinavia, Jews are scared. They are under constant attack from violent members of the Muslim minorities in those lands. Jews have been murdered by Islamists in France while shopping for groceries for Shabbat. In Denmark, a synagogue is attacked and a murder committed by an Islamist during a bat mitzvah. Jews fear being obviously Jewish in the UK, as wearing a kippah can attract an attack from Muslims. A quote from an article in the April issue of The Atlantic magazine by Jeffrey Goldberg nauseatingly demonstrates the lowly status of Jews in Europe today. Goldberg quotes Jair Melchior (from a Reuters news article), the head of the Danish Jewish community, pathetically attempting to explain away the anti-Jewish activity the Jews regularly experience by saying “It’s not a dangerous anti‑Semitism. It’s spitting, cursing, like that.” The Jews of France are now fleeing the country they knew as home in record numbers. Most of these Jews are Mizrachi Jews who one or more generations ago had escaped to France, fleeing from Muslim violence often after being expelled from Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel and then again following the 1967 Six-Day War. While this wave of Muslim anti-Jewish violence spills across Europe many others in Europe have embraced a belligerent anti-Israel attitude that in a way exonerates them from the guilt of the Holocaust and often leads to mass demonstrations against Israel and making excuses for any and all terrorist acts directed at the Jews of the State of Israel. An alliance of leftist and Islamist anti-Semites are attempting to criminalize free speech and press that contains any criticism of the sources in Islam that encourage this violence.
Those of us Jews who are fortunate enough to live in Israel or the US don’t need to pray that we are free next year. We must celebrate, exercise, and defend the freedom we enjoy, but we need to pray and take actual action to come to the aid of Jews elsewhere who now live lives of stress and oppression as Jews had in the past. We need to organize on this issue and not remain silent. Next year may all Jews (and all good people) truly be free people wherever they choose to live!
Have a joyous and meaningful Pesach,