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Passover is upon us once again, the festival of freedom when we commemorate our ancestors’ deliverance from bondage in Egypt.
Throughout the world, a familiar scene will repeat itself, as Jewish parents relate the story of the Exodus to their children, preserving the chain of Jewish memory that links us to our past while fortifying our future.
The traditional four cups of wine will be emptied, Matzah and bitter herbs will be consumed, and that distant day so very long ago, when the nation of Israel took its first, tentative steps towards liberty, will be recounted in great detail well into the wee hours of the night.
The Passover Seder is a powerful ritual, one that continues to resonate with many Jews who otherwise are largely unaffiliated or even uninvolved with Jewish life.
But the question that comes to mind, and which demands an answer, is what is the relevance of all this in the 21st century? After all, Israel is a sovereign and independent country, and most of world Jewry currently resides in the West, where they enjoy unprecedented freedom to live as they see fit.
Why, then, is it so important for us to commemorate what took place on Passover over 3500 years ago?
The question becomes even more pointed when one considers some of the horrors that have occurred to the Jewish people over the centuries specifically on Passover.
Indeed, it was over 1900 years ago that the Jews defending Masada against the invading Roman legions committed suicide on the first day of Passover rather than succumb to slavery and torture. As Josephus writes in The Wars of the Jews (Book 7, Chap. 9), the scene was heartbreaking as “the husbands tenderly embraced their wives, and took their children into their arms, and gave the longest parting kisses to them, with tears in their eyes,” before killing themselves and their families.
In the medieval period, European anti-Semites conjured up the blood libel, hurling false accusations against the Jews of murdering Christian children as part of the Passover preparations. The first such instance took place in 1144, when Jews in England were accused of having killed young William of Norwich and then draining the blood out of his body to make Matzah for Passover.
In 1497, Passover coincided with a cruel decree issued by King Manuel of Portugal, who ordered all Jewish children between the ages of 4 and 14 to be forcibly converted to Catholicism. Countless thousands of Jewish youngsters were taken from their parents on the first day of the holiday. They were compulsorily baptized and then handed over to be raised by Catholic families. As historian Cecil Roth described it (A History of the Marranos, p. 58), “Scenes of indescribable horror were witnessed as they were torn away by the royal bailiffs.
More recently, on April 19, 1943, the German army entered the Warsaw Ghetto on the eve of Passover to liquidate and deport the remaining Jews to the Nazi death camps, prompting the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
And who can forget the Passover Massacre in Netanya that took place four years ago, in 2002, when 30 Jews were killed and 120 others were injured by a Palestinian suicide bomber belonging to Hamas, which now rules Gaza?
What, then, is to be gained by focusing our attention on what happened on Passover 35 centuries ago, if the intervening period has been marked by so much calamity and bloodshed?
The answer, in fact, is really quite simple, and it goes directly to the heart of what Passover, and our nation’s history, is truly all about: the Jewish people’s unshakeable determination to persevere, even in the wake of disaster and tragedy.
After all, our ancestors merited salvation from Egypt because they did not abandon their unique identity, even when Pharaoh’s taskmasters worked them to death and murdered their newborn male infants.
The first Passover signified their rescue, creating a model of deliverance that would be replicated over the millennia: stubborn Jewish fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds and a cruel enemy, followed by a heartrending appeal for Divine mercy. It was this powerful combination of faith and identity which paved the way for our ultimate triumph and liberation.
The reason we continue to look back to that first Passover is because it was a microcosm of our people’s historical saga throughout the ages. Then, as now, the nation of Israel was forged through anguish and suffering, which was followed by an unprecedented act of heavenly kindness and intervention.
It is precisely because of Passover’s power to inspire Jewish resolve that our foes have seized upon it over the centuries to try and break our collective spirit. From Portugal’s King Manuel to the Palestinian Hamas, our foes have recognized the festival’s ability to stir the Jewish people’s hopes for a better future.
So no matter how bleak the present might seem, Passover instructs us to view the world with a healthy dose of historical and theological perspective. “A person is obligated to view himself as if he too had left Egypt,” says the Haggadah, wisely reminding us that in the process of looking to our nation’s past, we gain a glimpse of our own bright and redemptive future.
Anyone expecting that Hamas’ overwhelming victory in Palestinian legislative elections would transform the terrorist organization into a moderate political force was in for an unpleasant surprise over the weekend.
In a document released to the press outlining the incoming Hamas government’s guiding principles, the organization made clear that it has not budged one inch from its determination to continue killing innocent Jews.
“Resistance in all its forms is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people in its path to put an end to the occupation and the reinstatement of its national rights,” states the document, which also insists that the so-called Palestinian “right of return” is something that “can’t be given up”.
In other words, Hamas plans to use the levers of government that will be at its disposal in order to continue carrying out terrorist attacks against the Jewish state. The Palestinian Authority, and all its “security” branches, will now be guided by the explicit policy of “resistance in all its forms”, which is Hamas-talk for suicide bombings, shootings and other types of attacks.
If this does not constitute a formal declaration of war by the Palestinian Authority against Israel, it is hard to imagine what would.
Something strange happened over the weekend, and I am still trying to figure it all out.
In a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz chastised Moscow for legitimizing Hamas by inviting leaders of the terror group to talks in the Russian capital later this month.
Since Hamas’ overwhelming victory in last month’s Palestinian elections, Israel has been trying to build an informal international coalition against dealing with the Hamas-led Palestinian government currently in formation.
As one of the key members of the Quartet, Russia’s decision to deal directly with Hamas is of course a blow to Israel’s efforts (so much for reaping diplomatic gains from the Gaza withdrawal….).
In any event – here is the part that is confusing: It was 13 years ago that Israel’s government legitimized Yasser Arafat and the PLO, conferring recognition on the terrorist group and saving it from collapse. This was done despite the great damage it caused, and continues to cause, to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Indeed, up until the present moment, the Government continues to recognize the Palestinian Authority, despite its active participation and involvement in anti-Israel terror (including last Thursday’s incident at the Erez crossing, where terrorists sought to kill Israeli soldiers).
Given that’s the case, how does Mr. Mofaz expect to convince the Russians to avoid dealing with one group of Palestinian terrorists, when Israel is openly dealing with another? Doesn't he realize the inherent absurdity of his position?
Don't get me wrong – there is no excuse for the Russian stance vis-a-vis Hamas, which is both immoral and short-sighted, and is clearly aimed at undermining the US and Israel’s position.
But there is no doubt that if the government’s policy was based on moral clarity, rather than mulish pragmatism, its message abroad would resonate more convincingly.
That, at least, one would hope, Mr. Mofaz should be able to grasp.
She may be attractive, articulate and intelligent, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that Condoleezza Rice is a friend of Israel.
The US Secretary of State in recent weeks has engineered yet another major Israeli concession, compelling the Jewish state to allow Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem to take part in the upcoming Palestinian Authority (PA) elections.
Despite months of insisting that it would not back down on the issue, Israel has done precisely that, with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now planning to get the cabinet to approve the move at its weekly session on Sunday.
This is far more than just a question of procedural issues – it undercuts Israel’s sovereignty in its own capital, and reinforces ties between the city’s Palestinians and the PA.
Allowing Jerusalem Palestinians to take part sends a message that a foreign entity – namely, the PA – is the ultimate political authority to whom the city’s Arab residents must turn.
And that, of course, is precisely what the Palestinian leadership would like to see happen.
By twisting Israel’s arm on this issue at a time when the country’s Prime Minister lies in a hospital bed fighting for his life, Condoleezza Rice has demonstrated a startling lack of decency and humanity.
And by undermining Israel’s position on Jerusalem, and giving the Palestinians a huge political victory, Rice has shown where her sympathies truly lie.
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While everyone has been focused, and rightly so, on the danger that a nuclear Iran would pose to the future of Israel and the West, there is another side effect of the international community's ongoing inaction that has been largely overlooked.
And that is the arms race that will inevitably result throughout the Persian Gulf, and the entire Middle East, should Tehran be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the first signs of it have already begun to appear.
Just yesterday, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, six Arab states - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates – all declared that they too now have atomic ambitions, and would like to obtain the technology necessary to start producing nuclear energy.
Of course, they were quick to insist that it would be for "peaceful purposes" only, but no one can really take this claim very seriously.
Why the sudden interest in nuclear research? Well, it really isn't too hard to guess the answer: all six of the countries involved live within range of Iran, which is busily speeding forward with impunity towards joining the nuclear club.
In other words, by allowing Iran to go nuclear, the world is setting the stage for a mad arms race throughout the entire region, as country after country seeks to protect itself from the threat posed by atomic ayatollahs.
It should be clear what this would mean – not only for the safety and security of Israel, but for that of the entire Western world.
Just one more reason why it is time for the US and/or Israel to bomb Iran, sooner rather than later…..