Celebrating Freedom this Passover
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From the Desk of Stephen H. Hoffman
Passover and Easter are intimately intertwined in our history as the Last Supper was actually a Seder. This weekend our two great faiths, Judaism and Christianity, will celebrate these defining foundational moments in the same space and time. It has special meaning for me this year as I had the wonderful opportunity of being in Israel just two weeks ago with a Federation–Israel Bonds mission that included several Jews and a number of first time Christian visitors.
Seeing Israel through the eyes of first-timers is always fun. It's especially so when you're with Christians walking on the street level of the times of Jesus by the extended Western Wall, or standing by their holy sites along the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Without exception they embraced the vitality of modern Israel, grappled with its complex security challenges and enjoyed the reverence for this old-new land.
We were there during the recent Israeli elections and got to see Israeli democracy in full swing, and the aftermath as people absorbed the results. I was discussing this recently with one of my daughters, expressing concern over the way President Obama and Administration sources have been reacting to Prime Minister Netanyahu's recent actions and seemingly contradictory statements. We thought this would be a hot topic at many Seders. I observed that someone needed to be the adult in the room and get a proper grip on the American–Israeli relationship. She likened it to everyone sitting at the kids table of the Seder. I think she caught it perfectly.
No doubt troubling things were said in the Israeli election campaign – people do get carried away; people who should know better.
But the telling of our national liberation story, the Exodus from Egypt, with its emphasis on 1) remembering that we were slaves and act as if we were there and liberated and 2) celebrating our freedom – should help us focus on what really matters.
The vast majority of the world's Jews today live in two great free democracies. This freedom is precious. We were slaves; we appreciate it even more! We need to resist, counter and ameliorate racism whether we see it in America or in Israel. We need to value the civil rights of all our citizens even as we have the freedom to worship as we believe our faith guides us. Freedom of thought, freedom of religious beliefs should not lead us to incite fear of fellow citizens, nor to the suppression of their constitutional rights.
Passover is a time to tell our story and redirect ourselves to the preservation of freedom for all and the mutual acceptance of each other's differences. May you and your families enjoy a meaningful Seder and Passover holiday – and maybe have some adults spend some time at the kids table!
Stephen H. Hoffman