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Approaching Easter and Passover

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Among Jews, the hoopla surrounding the upcoming Passover holidays continues as it does every year. This, despite the seemingly unusual circumstances of celebrating our liberation while oppressing another people. Sad to say, however, our oppression of the Palestinian people has become the normal state of Jewish affairs. So why not write endlessly about Passover recipes and whether men have now taken on some of the Passover preparation?

Some Jews of Conscience believe that announcing the need for liberation is even more important because of the normalization of the Israeli occupation. Striking out against our own oppression as unacceptable is imperative. The 2015 Jewish Voice for Peace Haggadah is one such way for Jews of Conscience to observe Passover, though I still find their 2012 offering superior.

Telling are the translation of the Ten Plagues of the traditional Passover story in contemporary terms as the Ten Plagues of Israeli Occupation. The ultimate reversal. Once we were enslaved. Now we enslave others.

This year Easter coincides with Passover and, to my mind, Christians of Conscience have another chance to take note of their own history. Some Christians of Conscience celebrate Passover as well. Perhaps the Ten Plagues in the Christian observance should be translated into the Ten Plagues of Christendom.

As with Passover for Jews, the triumphal language surrounding Palm Sunday and Easter should be toned down. Remnants of Christendom continue apace in Christian Zionism and beyond. Some Christians are doing just that, portraying Jesus as a prophetic figure who enters Jerusalem in defiance of the Roman occupation and is crucified by the Romans for the sin of suggesting a way of life beyond occupation. It is curious, though, how the most obvious aspect of Jesus confronting the contemporary occupation of Jerusalem is highlighted while Jesus’ Jewishness is barely acknowledged and rarely, if ever, emphasized. Downplaying Jesus’ Jewishness is a political and religious story in itself.

This brings us to a most telling lacuna in the celebration of Passover and Easter, even when both are claimed in a progressive direction. Most Jewish and Christian religionists leave to others the lack of historical verification for the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt or Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and subsequent Passion narrative. Many historians believe it unlikely that either happened as told, if at all.

Nonetheless, the Jewish and Christian traditions contain resources for resistance to unjust power. Yet another question remains: How many more Passover and Easter seasons will Jews and Christians of Conscience observe until our dissent rings hollow even to ourselves?

Netanyahu’s disavowal of a two state solution and his warnings about Arab hordes are already being enhanced by the US presidential election focus on Israel and the Jewish community. The Republicans are way too obvious but during Passover and Easter don’t forget to check out Hillary Clinton’s  and Elizabeth Warren‘s cozying up to the Jewish establishment’s occupation enabling powers that be.

No doubt, all of our presidential hopefuls will be attending Passover Seders with their well-connected donor base. And Easter services, too. Which tells me that “Next Year in Jerusalem” is likely to be more of the same.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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13 Responses

  1. MHughes976 on March 31, 2015, 1:23 pm

    It is part of the general, not just the Jewish, human condition, I think, to be sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes oppressed and a little servile, sometimes proud and domineering.

  2. just on March 31, 2015, 1:44 pm

    I’m hoping for “Next year in Palestine”!

    (I can’t remember who said it first…)

    And, 1S1P1V!!!

    In the meantime, if Palm Sunday was any indication, Easter could be worse. From Kate’s compilation yesterday:

    “Israeli soldiers raid Palm Sunday celebration in Beit Jala

    IMEMC/Agencies 30 Mar — Palm Sunday celebrations in Beit Jala were brought to an abrupt end, on Sunday, when Israeli troops raided the majority-Christian town near Bethlehem and began threatening locals. Palestinian policemen on duty near the celebrations were threatened by Israeli soldiers with arrest during the raid, which took place in the middle of the day as Sunday mass was coming to an end in local churches, Ma‘an News Agency reports. The town of Beit Jala is subject to regular incursions by Israeli forces, even though the large majority of its population lives in Area A, subject to full Palestinian civil and military control under the Oslo Accords. Palm Sunday is celebrated this year on March 29 according to the Gregorian calendar, which is recognized for religious purposes by most Western Christian denominations in Palestine. Orthodox Christians, meanwhile, use the Julian calendar and will be celebrating Palm Sunday on April 5. The raid raises fears of a repeat of last Easter, when Israeli restrictions on Christian worship during the holiday prevented thousands of Christian Palestinians from traveling to Jerusalem and led to chaotic scenes in the city itself. Israeli authorities have in the past come under sharp criticism for the violation of religious freedom of Palestinian Christians, who number around 200,000, including 50,000 in the West Bank, 1,000 in Gaza, and the rest inside Israel. In March of last year, Christians from East Jerusalem issued a statement complaining that Christians are often denied access to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during the Easter holidays.” – See more at:

    Christmas was a hoot, too:

    “‘We want Christmas without occupation’: Israel attacks Bethlehem protesters dressed as Santa with tear gas” – See more at:

    Lastly, Ramadan 2014:

    “Later, I accompanied Saleem al Qasas to his battered home. As we walked up a blackened stairwell, he told me that weeks before the bombing of the Basha tower, his home had been targeted by Israeli drones. “The 21st of Ramadan was a day from hell,” he said.

    His sisters and their families who had fled the bombardment of Shujaiya were preparing an Iftar meal when two drone strikes hit the top floor apartment. When Saleem al Qasas heard the explosion from his home on a lower floor, he ran up the stairs and found nine family members, all girls and women, blown to pieces. “I found them with their legs and hands missing, and their heads halfway blown off,” he told me. Standing in the destroyed building, he pointed at a blast crater on the floor and told me, “My four nieces were killed right here.””

    – See more at:

    “No doubt, all of our presidential hopefuls will be attending Passover Seders with their well-connected donor base. And Easter services, too. Which tells me that “Next Year in Jerusalem” is likely to be more of the same.”

    They can’t help themselves. It’s what they do so well. But not a peep about Gaza, the Occupation, or Justice. Shhhhhhh.

    • annie on March 31, 2015, 1:58 pm

      oh my. the people of beit jala are continually tasked with enduring so much harassment!

  3. just on March 31, 2015, 1:59 pm

    If I hadn’t read this, I wouldn’t believe it:

    “At Passover time, remember those struggling with infertility
    One doesn’t have to donate a womb, an embryo or an egg to help out.

    …Every Passover we read the section of Exodus where the Torah reminds us to remember the convert, the orphan and the widow: “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20), it says, adding, “If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry.”

    To the convert, orphan and widow, I’d add the fertility challenged.

    …..Sometimes at joyous life-cycle celebrations — a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a bris — it can seem like everyone else’s life is proceeding according to plan: love, marriage, children, rinse and repeat.

    A closer look may show a different picture. So let’s remember this Passover, as we recall the suffering of the past and the suffering of the present, the power of community to lessen the pain.”

    I must be hallucinating.

    (I have experience with and heaps of compassion for the plight of the infertile, but there are living children and others that suffer much more.)

  4. peterfeld on March 31, 2015, 2:18 pm

    I’d love to see awareness of BDS in connection with Passover, and have Jews spread the word not to buy Israeli-made matzoh, kosher wine and other products.

    • just on March 31, 2015, 2:55 pm

      That would be lovely!

    • pabelmont on March 31, 2015, 3:34 pm

      To not buy Israeli (anything) AND to cite to Palestine as an example of “we were slaves in Egypt”, “we” being Palestinians, Egypt being Israel. (What goes around comes around?)

    • italian ex-pat on March 31, 2015, 4:19 pm

      I hope I don’t sound mean-spirited and ill-mannered, but for the first time in years, I have declined the invitation to the Seder held by my husband’s (not close) relatives.

      Much as I like them personally, as a Chistian I’ve always felt uncomfortable at their table on this holiday , reading (with total lack of conviction) from religious texts exalting the greatness and goodness of Israel. In view of this past summer’s war and destruction, and also recent political events, I could not think of participating without feeling like an imposter and a hypocrite. I’ve explained this to them, and while not sharing my opinion, they appear to understand.

      I will have a beautiful flower arrangement for their Seder table delivered instead. And then I’ll celebrate Easter.

    • Rusty Pipes on March 31, 2015, 7:45 pm

      Occupation is not kosher.

  5. Citizen on March 31, 2015, 3:23 pm

    Thanks Mr. Ellis. Good concise article. I wonder what Hagee types think of the Palestinian Christians, and how they’ve been treated by the chosen ones?

    • john h on April 1, 2015, 1:11 am

      They automatically believe the problems Palestinian Christians have all stem from their own Muslim folk, not from anything Israelis do.

  6. W.Jones on March 31, 2015, 9:32 pm

    As with Passover for Jews, the triumphal language surrounding Palm Sunday and Easter should be toned down. -Marc Ellis

    Israeli security forces are doing a fine job of that blocking native Christians from Easter in Jerusalem.

    “Remnants of Christendom continue apace in Christian Zionism and beyond.”
    Aren’t majority “Christian” societies from Russia to Argentina “Christendom”, not just Christian Zionism. No need to overgeneralize or conflate everyone with that. Christian Zionism is probably a fraction of all Christendom.

    It is curious, though, how the most obvious aspect of Jesus confronting the contemporary occupation of Jerusalem is highlighted while Jesus’ Jewishness is barely acknowledged and rarely, if ever, emphasized.

    Jesus’ Jewishness is acknowledged over and over again by basically all Christianity, the theologians of all denominations, Church fathers, etc. It comes up whether you read St Jerome in the 4th century or Fr. Meier’s JESUS: A MARGINAL JEW in he 20th.

    BUT he did have views different than the religious mores of his community in terms of, say, observance of the Torah. The concept of ritual cleanliness did not seem very strictly enforced. He did have his followers do the handwashing ritual of phariseeism and modern Judaism, for example.

    The other thing is that Christianity teaches that we are to all be one in Christ whether we are Jewish or not. So in that sense, what is the spiritual need of emphasizing Jesus’ Jewishness far beyond the way that our scholars and preachers and writers repeatedly already do?

  7. John Salisbury on April 2, 2015, 4:59 pm

    Yes Marc I agree with your analysis.It should have rung hollow a long long time ago.

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