Israel and Palestine at Passover

5 April 2023
By: Max Antman

In Estelle Frankel’s Sacred Therapy, Jewish text and tradition are used to examine psychotherapeutic case studies and emotions. One of the major themes in her book is risk, and in order to effectively illustrate this theme, Frankel discusses the parting of the Red Sea. She describes how the Israelites must have been filled with trepidation as they watched the waters separate before their eyes. These individuals had no idea what lay before them – they couldn’t even be certain that the waters would remain parted as they crossed to the other side. In fact, they didn’t know much at all, only that they had a critical choice to make: they could advance into the unknown, risking their lives for the possibility of a rich future, or they could turn back, surrendering to a life of familiar evils and hardships. Frankel raises a similar question to her readership, asking, “If the Red Sea parted for you, would you allow fear to hold you back, or would you too, enter the water?”

Later this week, we will gather together with loved ones around seder tables to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt, how we were enslaved and Adonai (God) freed us, led us out of Egypt and through the parted waters toward the Promised Land. At the pinnacle of our celebration, we will sing Dayeinu, a dedication to God for all the gifts bestowed upon the Jewish people. Dayeinu means it would have been enough, and as the song describes fifteen gifts from God (freedom, Torah, Shabbat, the land of Israel, etc.), each is followed by this word, implying that if God had given only one, it would still have been enough.

During the seder, bondage and salvation mingle together in a passionate retelling of our collective history, challenging us to engage in bold and courageous conversation about who we as Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, have been and who we hope to become. And this year there is one topic that calls out louder than any other: the democratic conflict in Israel and ongoing military occupation in Palestine.

Over the past few months, we have witnessed nation-wide protests of the Israeli government’s plan to overhaul the Israeli judiciary. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to demand that Israel retain its democratic soul, chanting Korin Allal’s “Ein Li Eretz Acheret,” I Have No Other Country. For these individuals, Lo Dayeinu, it is not enough to have been brought into the land of Israel if that land does not maintain its democracy and independent judiciary. Lo Dayeinu, it is not enough for the Jewish people to have been given a homeland when that homeland is not accepting of different religious and ideological perspectives, when it doesn’t allow for a diverse citizenry and way of living.

And on this Pesach, Lo Dayeinu, it is not enough for us to engage in conversation about the assault on Israeli democracy without also acknowledging its inextricable link to the enduring military occupation in the West Bank. For years, NIF grantee Breaking the Silence has insisted that the violence and terror perpetrated by Jewish extremists in Palestinian cities like Hebron will end in the Knesset, and with the authorization of National Security Minister and known Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir’s militia plan this week, such a link has never been more clear. Amidst the chaos over Israeli democracy, we have continued to see illegal settlement expansion, Palestinian home demolitions, and horrific violence perpetrated against Palestinian civilians. Lo Dayeinu, it is not enough to fight the religious extremism that works to undermine Israeli democracy if we are not also willing to address the source of that extremism – a systemic military occupation that has existed for over half a century.

Bringing Israel and Palestine into our homes and giving them seats at our seder tables, no matter where on the spectrum your opinions fall, can be costly, as these conversations are divisive, charged, and filled with complexity and nuance. I have often worried that such conversations will upset family members I rarely see or create negativity during a holiday that is meant to celebrate our communal salvation. I have on occasion been warned by relatives against bringing up topics that are “too political” or “will ruin the evening.” But the cost to not addressing these issues, to ignoring the linkages between the judicial overall and occupation and going about our Passover celebrations as usual, is unconscionable. Silence is tantamount to complicity, and the result is playing out in Israeli and Palestinian streets right now.

For our ancestors, the path from slavery to salvation was paved in risk, and yet they chose to journey forward in the hopes of reaching the Promised Land. We too have a choice in whether to take risks in our pursuit of a just and peaceful future in the middle east, but the cost of that choice is not insignificant. At my seder table this year, I plan to engage in conversation about the current government’s undermining of Israeli democracy and how without justice for all Israelis and Palestinians, and an end to the occupation, there will never be true democracy. I hope you will join me.