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Two readings for Passover

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Many Jews who come to this site are struggling with how to reconcile the majestic liberation story of Passover with Jewish sovereignty in Israel and Palestine and its blind consecration by American Jewish organizations. As someone who has strived, in my own little way, to reconcile living religious ritual with devotion to the human rights of those now condemned to bondage, Palestinians, I’d offer these two readings, provided to me by Jewish friends.

First, from Laurie Arbeiter and the other creative folks at We Will Not Be Silent, a variation on the central teaching of the Passover, the Four Questions:

Four questions
Four questions

And last night at my Seder, I was privileged to read aloud from the late poet Adrienne Rich, her poem Collaborations, Stanza III (published in 2006), addressed to Israeli poets:

Do you understand why I want your voice?

At the seder table it’s said

you reclined and said nothing
now in the month of Elul is your throat so dry

your dreams so stony
you wake with their grit in your mouth?

[italic] There was a beautiful life here once
Our enemies poisoned it? [end italic]

Make a list of what’s lost but don’t
call it a poem

that’s for the scriptors of nostalgia
bent to their copying-desks

Make a list of what you love well
Twist it insert it

into a bottle of old Roman glass
go to the edge of the sea

at Haifa where the refugee ships lurched in
and the ships of deportation wrenched away

I learned that Rich’s poem was a source of controversy and anguish among Israelis. And when she died last year, Electronic Intifada honored her. Ben Doherty:

During her activist career, Adrienne Rich was involved with New Jewish Agenda which broke Zionist taboos around Palestinian existence and right to speak. In 2009, she endorsed the Palestinian call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel despite having reservations…

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18 Responses

  1. W.Jones
    March 26, 2013, 12:44 pm

    Dear Phil,

    You brought up a good question:

    Many Jews who come to this site are struggling with how to reconcile the majestic liberation story of Passover with Jewish sovereignty in Israel and Palestine and its blind consecration by American Jewish organizations.

    Can you say that your own experience has been a kind of spiritual “Passing-over” from one ideology into an understanding of the situation and a new way of life where you help redeem others from bondage?

    The song Amazing Grace was written by a white man on a slave ship who had a spiritual awakening and rejected slavery. He saw his change of heart to abolitionism as a part of his salvation.

    Rather than being a slave to the ideology you are overcoming it and are now free to change others too. Break, chains!

  2. Les
    March 26, 2013, 12:57 pm

    Add Ben and Jerry’s to your list of spiritually unclean foods.

    March 26, 2013

    Peace, Love & Occupation
    Time to Freeze Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Profits in Israel
    by MARK HAGE

    Most people know that Ben & Jerry’s, headquartered in South Burlington, Vermont, makes premium ice cream and champions “Peace” and “Love.” What they don’t know is that this iconic leader of the socially responsible business community and supporter of Occupy Wall Street is commercially complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

    Progressive Except for Palestine

    Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission commits it to

    …meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national and international communities by integrating these concerns into our day-to-day business activities.

    …seek and support nonviolent ways to achieve peace and justice.

    …show a deep respect for human beings inside and outside our company and for the communities in which they live.

    Sadly, that Social Mission does not apply to Occupied Palestine at present. Based on an investigation in 2011, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine Israel learned that the company is making ice cream in Israel and selling it in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and is planning to increase the number of scoop shops in Israel. The company and its Israeli licensee also run an ice cream factory near Kiryat Malachi—like virtually all Israeli towns and cities, it’s built on the former lands of a Palestinian village forcibly de-populated in the War of 1948, which culminated with the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians. This horrific crime is what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, the “Catastrophe.”

    Today, Israeli trucks distributing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream travel seamlessly from the factory, down the forgotten roads of the Nakba, then on super highways that have systematically eviscerated the “Green Line” (Israel’s 1967 border with the West Bank and East Jerusalem), circumventing military checkpoints and roadblocks that torment Palestinians, to arrive at markets in Jewish settlements entrenched on stolen Palestinian land—places like Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, Ma’ale Admumim and Mishor Adumim. One of our activists visited markets in these settlements and found Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for sale. With assistance from a Jewish-Israeli compatriot, we also discovered that Jewish settlers can order a party cart with catering services from the factory.

    Ending Ben & Jerry’s Complicity with Israel’s Occupation

    Ben & Jerry’s is not the most egregious corporate offender in Palestine. But unlike those that are, it has a Social Mission that cannot be reconciled with Israel’s occupation and settlement regime. On March 14, after nearly two years of unsuccessful engagement with the company, VTJP launched a campaign calling on Ben & Jerry’s to take the following measures until Israel terminates its occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands in compliance with international law:

    1. End the marketing, sales and catering of Ben & Jerry’s products in Israel and Jewish-only settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

    2. Stop manufacturing ice cream in Israel.

    3. Issue a statement calling (a) for an end to Israel’s occupation and settlement enterprise and (b) appealing directly to other socially responsible companies to do likewise and to end business operations in Israel and its illegal settlements.

    Since VTJP went public, 3,200 people have signed our petition to Ben & Jerry’s and over 500 have sent an e-mail of protest to its CEO. The company has refused media interviews and continues to insist, without elaboration, that its franchise’s business in Israel and Occupied Palestine is aligned with its Social Mission.

    On April 9, VTJP activists will be leafleting outside Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops on “Free Cone Day” to remind the company that its ice cream may be free on that day, but Palestine is not. We invite you to join us at a scoop shop of your choice.

    • W.Jones
      March 26, 2013, 1:47 pm

      The Vermont campaign has a good sense of humor.
      What do you think of B.J.’s “Peace Camp Initiative”?

  3. seafoid
    March 26, 2013, 1:51 pm

    $3 billion per annum from the US for weapons to defend the occupation and 890,000 Israeli kids are hungry this Passover . 442,200 families live below the poverty line. Most of them are Jewish.

    • March 27, 2013, 6:42 pm

      I guess, they can’t eat weapons after all.

  4. lysias
    March 26, 2013, 2:19 pm

    The thing that has always bothered me about the Passover story is what happened to the Egyptians. Even the Pharaoh only acted as he did because God had hardened his heart.

    • yourstruly
      March 26, 2013, 4:18 pm

      yes, a bit too much, one’s ancestors being liberated only after every egyptian family’s first born gets slain (the first recorded mass slaughter?), and never mind that the story’s a faery tale, cause myths seem to have lives of their own. what to do about it? talk about it or let it go, hoping that the children at the family seder won’t pick up on it? i’ve done both.

    • Eva Smagacz
      Eva Smagacz
      March 27, 2013, 5:53 am

      Lysias, the bit in a Bible that bothers me a lot is:
      Exodus 12:
      . 35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

      Skip the God bit, and you have a story of Jews living between ordinary Egyptians on the good enough footing that Egyptians, when asked, lend them “Articles of gold, Articles of silver and clothing”. Jews leave them penniless and quick foot it across the dessert! No wonder they are chased – that was some grand, premeditated and coordinated plunder of their ordinary, foolishly trusting gentile neighbours.

      • jon s
        jon s
        March 28, 2013, 7:23 am

        Eva, Maybe it can be seen as trying to get even: the Egyptians had exploited the Israelite’s slave labor, and now the Israelites were taking property which the Egyptians had accumulated as the profits of slavery.

  5. jon s
    jon s
    March 26, 2013, 3:41 pm

    I usually conduct a traditional Seder, but one can always add to the text, especially when it comes to what is -in my view – the central message.
    The central theme is to remember : that we were slaves in Egypt , and were liberated, and the memory should be very up-close and personal – we should all consider ourselves as having been liberated from bondage. And yet…something is missing here: In the Bible itself we are told repeatedly to remember the oppression in Egypt for a purpose- so as not to do the same to others. In Exodus (22:20):” And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And again: (Exodus 23:9): “And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Also in Deuteronomy (10:19): “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. Admirable sentiments – yet absent from the Hagaddah!
    The traditional Haggadah is a product of the Diaspora, at a time when Jews were sometimes persecuted and often lived in fear. The traditional text says that “now we are here (in the Diaspora), next year in Israel, now we are enslaved , next year we’ll be free”.
    So what I do is add emphasis on the universal message of liberation and, in line with the references above, Hillel’s dictum: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah”.( Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

  6. yourstruly
    March 26, 2013, 3:50 pm

    why, on passover, the festival of freedom, must the jew support justice for the palestinian people?

    because their homeland, palestine, is now occupied by jewish settlers, and since occupying someone else’s land is a form of enslavement, based on the lessons we learned from our own experience as slaves in egypt, we know that the right thing to do is to always side with the slave, never with the slavemaster.

    even when the slavemaster is a jew?

    especially then.

    why especially?

    because a people who profess to a religion that celebrates their own liberation from slavery, while at the same time they’re putting chains on another people, make a mockery not only of themselves but of their religion.

    anything else?

    that none of us will be free until the last chain is broken.

  7. Citizen
    March 26, 2013, 5:34 pm

    What would the world think of a passover story where a different group was passed over by the angel of death and they were targeted by god? Odd nobody notices this.

  8. jon s
    jon s
    March 27, 2013, 1:07 pm

    Moderators: is there any particular reason my comment here hasn’t been posted?

  9. March 27, 2013, 6:41 pm

    Here’s one more reading for passover and one that interests me more. This lot sure doesn’t miss an opportunity to fart in their god’s direction:

    Israeli police enable rabbis and settlers to mark Passover inside Al-Aqsa Mosque!+Mail

    Protected by Israeli police officers, a large number of rabbis and illegal settlers have entered Al-Aqsa Mosque to mark the Jewish Passover. The mosque is the third holiest place in Islam.

    According to a live despatch sent to MEMO on Wednesday morning, hundreds of Israeli rabbis and Jewish settlers entered the courtyards of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa protected by Israeli police. They carried out religious rituals inside the mosque. The senior guard at the mosque, Dr Najed Bokeerat, said that almost 900 foreign tourists were also allowed to enter the sacred site.

    Al-Aqsa Foundation for Religious Endowments and Islamic Heritage, which confirmed the settlers’ incursion, said that Israeli occupation forces drove almost all Muslim worshippers and students out of the mosque on Tuesday evening. “They have prevented Muslims from entering the mosque since then,” said a spokesman for the Foundation. Israeli police are posted at all of the sanctuary’s gates.

    Member of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin said on Tuesday that he was planning to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque to mark Passover. He called on all settlers to join him. Palestinian officials and activists warned of potential violent consequences as a result of the MK’s inflammatory statement.

    Dr Bokeerat told MEMO that Israeli police prevented Feiglin from entering the mosque today after a large number of Palestinians gathered in the vicinity. “They feared that clashes would erupt if they let him go inside,” he said, adding his criticism of calls from the Arab League meeting in Doha to stop Israeli violations of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa. “They pledge a lot but do nothing of substance on the ground.”

  10. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    March 28, 2013, 3:58 am

    Texts come to mind. the first text is the book of Exodus (the one written by unknown author/s rather than the one by Leon Uris). Many questions raised about the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. Many questions raised about the cruelty of the suffering of the Egyptians. Someone even was upset about the fact that the Israelites took some gold for their 210 years of servitude, and called it Jews exploiting the gentiles.

    Obama picked Exodus to point out its role in the consciousness of African Americans in the civil rights era (and in the civil war era as well, I would add.)

    Then there is the text of the Hagada: the four questions, the many actions that are performed for the specific purpose of inciting the curiosity and questions of the young, the plagues and the token of wine (insufficiently) recognizing the suffering of the Egyptians, the four sons: wise, wicked, simple and so simple that he doesn’t even know what to ask. the litany of the dayenu and of course that problematic: next year in jerusalem.

    when describing the progressive seder i attended years ago to someone at a seder i attended this year: “they didn’t mention the jewish people until the end of the third paragraph.”

    politics doesn’t take a vacation obviously. proud of the jewish matzo and bitter herbs, proud of the four questions and tickled by the hillel sandwich, love to imagine what the matza looked like at the seder of the 12 apostles and their rebbe rabbi yehoshua, proud of the urge for freedom, nay, even proud of confusion: plagues, peace? freedom, wrath, continuity to the extent of in your face continuity (set the wicked son’s teeth on edge) proud of bob hope (or as they call it in my house “passover”) and woody allen (martin landau’s memory in crimes and misdemeanors) proud of the jew in the past, worried and wary of the jew of the present and the future.

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