How is Pesach this year different from all other years?

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah – LJ E-Bulletin, Pesach 2017/5777

How is Pesach this year different from all other years? On all other years, we recall that our ancestors were slaves in the land of Egypt. On all other years, we celebrate our liberation and the blessing of being a free people.

Of course, that’s not all we do: As Liberal Jews, we acknowledge the destructions experienced by our people between then and now, not least, the Sho’ah. And we also, express our outrage that people are still enslaved in the world today, and recognise the plight of refugees, fleeing tyranny, persecution and war.

But this year is rather different. 2017, is indelibly marked by significant anniversaries that changed the course of Jewish history in the 20th century. And so, this year, we look back 100 years to the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917 that stated that: ‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine a national home… It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’[1]

We also recall the United Nations vote on 29 November 1947 that secured agreement on a partition plan, paving the way for the establishment of the State of Israel, and remember the Six Day War that began on 5 June 1967, and which concluded with victory for Israel and the occupation of the land beyond the ceasefire ‘Green Line’ agreed at the end of the 1948 War of Independence.[2]

Yes, this year is a very particular year for commemoration. So, how does this relate to Pesach? The Six-Day War was one of the shortest wars in human history, but fifty years on, its consequences remain unresolved. Since 1917, and in particular since 1947, the great project to establish a homeland for the Jewish people has been inextricably connected with the hope that in finding a home, the Jewish people would live in peace with its neighbours. Sadly, we know that Israel does not yet enjoy peace. We also know that the Jewish ethical values expressed in the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, signed on 14 May 1948,[3] have run aground in the continuing conflict with the Palestinian people that despite the peace process in the 1990s has not yet seen the establishment of a sovereign State of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside the sovereign State of Israel.

Given the deadlock and the imminent arrival of all these significant anniversaries, an initiative has recently been established by an Israel-Diaspora Partnership ‘to save Israel and stop the occupation.’[4] Too often we get caught up in a binary trap of being, either, pro-Israel, or pro-Palestine. But we don’t have to choose between Israel and Palestine; in this year of anniversaries, we are challenged to support, both, Israel and Palestine. SISO has put out this ‘Call’ to Jews across the world:

As we approach June 2017, 50 years of Israeli military control over the Palestinians, Israel stands at a crossroads. The present situation is disastrous.

The prolonged occupation is inherently oppressive for Palestinians and fuels mutual bloodshed. It undermines the moral and democratic fabric of the state of Israel and hurts its standing in the community of nations.

Our best hope for the future – the surest path toward security, peace, and prosperity – lies in a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.

We call upon Jews around the world to join with Israeli partners for coordinated action to end the occupation and build a new future, for the sake of Israel and the generations to come.

SISO has just published a Jubilee Haggadah in Hebrew and English versions, so-called because its message, echoing the Torah’s proclamation of a jubilee [yoveil] in the fiftieth year after seven cycles of seven, is to ‘proclaim freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants.’[5] As SISO put it, the Jubilee Haggadah ‘links the feast of freedom with the need to free both Palestinians and Israelis from 50 years of occupation.’ People are welcome to order copies and/or download a free digital version.[6]

In the Jubilee Haggadah, orthodox Rabbi Michael Melchior, formerly, a member of Knesset, Minister of Social and Diaspora Affairs, and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, reflects:[7]

‘Now that we have returned to the Land by the grace of God, and are privileged to move through all of the Land of Israel and to settle in it, we have to protect ourselves and to safeguard our security — but not to base our existence on life by our sword. We are tested by our ability not to rule another people by “force”, but to live here by “My spirit”. In other words, to build a model society.

If in Egypt we became foreigners who were denied all rights to existence, liberty and land, and in this lay the root of our subjugation, we must not do to others what we ourselves hate.

Just ten weeks after the end of the Six Day War, Amos Oz wrote:[8]

We were not born to be a people of masters. “To be a free people” — this wish must awaken an echo in our hearts so long as we have not lost our humanity. We are condemned now to rule people who do not want to be ruled by us. Condemned, not merry and euphoric. The shorter the occupation lasts, the better for us, because an occupation is inevitably a corrupting occupation, and even a liberal and human occupation is an occupation.

So, how is Pesach this year different from all other years? Because this year, we connect the story of our ancestors’ liberation from tyranny with our commitment to the liberation of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples today from the tyranny of a brutalising 50-year-long impasse. Surely, the time has come to ‘proclaim freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants.’

1002 words

  5. Leviticus 25:10.
  7. p. 25.
  8. Davar, 22 August 1967. In the Jubilee Haggadah, p. 6