There is a feeling of spring in the air despite the unseasonably cold weather with its heavy rains. There is hardly a household in Israel that is not pre-occupied with spring-cleaning (Pesach Cleaning). This is a “Festival of Freedom” or as the kibbutz movements views it – the “Spring Festival”. Many housewives are utilizing muscles that have remained dormant from year to year. They climb ladders (some fall from the ladders and fill the hospital emergency wards because of fractures incurred). The agility of the Israeli housewife knows no bounds as every nook and cranny is painstakingly cleaned. They remove the leaven, imagined or unimagined with the dust that has settled over the last year. Is this really a festival of freedom from the ancient Egyptian yoke? For many people it is a bind and a race against time before the festival sets in. It is a hassle and certainly not a Festival of Freedom for many who are poverty stricken because of “budget reforms” of the previous government.
The “Festival of Freedom” pales into insignificance as many become slaves of matzoth. If the ancient Passover scene was re-enacted today with all its preparation, it is unlikely that the Israelites would be able to escape from the evil Pharaoh as the preparations for unleavened Passover would take ages and this would delay the escape of the ancient Israelites. The Halacha laws regarding Passover are so complex that familiarity with them would also be a factor in delaying escape to freedom. This would give Pharaoh sufficient time to harden his heart and change his mind. The legacy of slavery of the Israelites would continue to this day.
It is very hard to celebrate the Festival of Freedom when there are Palestinians under Israeli occupation that does not have a state. The reasons for that are very well known. Now with the Israeli and Palestinian elections behind us, the chances of Palestinian independence have decreased even further. Hamas won an overwhelming victory and their intransigence towards recognizing Israel’s right to exist as well as not giving up their terrorist acts against Israel is good enough reason not to acquiesce to Hamas. The
Israeli voter has spoken and the trend is towards unilateral disengagement even though this is not so well emphasized. There are signs that Hamas is trying to find a way to climb down from the tree of non-recognition of Israel without losing face. They still have a long way to go. Perhaps we should be less conscience–stricken over the occupation now than ever before as Hamas to date does not show any desire to negotiate a peace settlement with Israel that could lead to their independence.
How can we celebrate the Festival of Freedom without a conscience when there are civil rights abuses and religious intolerance towards non-Orthodox streams of Judaism? Even the Israeli Arab citizen does not have equal rights in practice. There are racist rabbis who are against Arab- Jewish cooperation and co-existence as evidenced this weekend when there was a groundbreaking ceremony for a Jewish-Arab School to be built in Jerusalem. Is this the new Orthodox Judaism of today? While supporters say the school represents hope for coexistence and multiculturalism, the project has come under attack. Noted cabbalist, Rabbi David Batzri, called the school "despicable and sinful." Batzri and his son, Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri, are being investigated by the State Prosecutor's Office for incitement to racism. The school, known as the Hand-In-Hand Centre for Jewish-Arab Education in Jerusalem, was founded in 1998. It is currently located in the working-class, Jewish Katamonim neighborhood. However, the building is old and it is too small to accommodate even the current enrollment of 312. At least 12 names are already on the waiting list for each grade. With room for 500 students, the new building will be able to accommodate the school's natural growth. Administrators are also interested in expanding into a high school.
The movement against the project has become increasingly vocal. It made headlines recently when Batzri senior, head of the city's Hashalom yeshiva, told a neighborhood gathering against the project that "the establishment of such a school is a despicable and sinful act. An Arab cannot contaminate what is pure. It is forbidden to blend darkness and light. The nation of Israel is pure and the Arabs are a nation of donkeys. They are an evil disaster, an evil devil and a nasty affliction." His son reportedly echoed his father's words, calling Arabs "donkeys and beasts." "They want to take our girls. They are endowed with true filthiness. There is pure and there is impure and they are impure," Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri allegedly said. Rabbi David Batzri received wide media coverage after calling the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina last summer divine retribution for U.S. support of the Gaza disengagement. He has also been quoted as saying that Jewish law calls for homosexuals to be "put to death."
It is a great pity that there is an abundance of rabbinical bigots of this ilk strutting around and making their voices felt. They are the first to goad the nation into observing the Passover Festival of Freedom and use the Orthodox Establishment to force their religious will on the people. Shops are not allowed to sell chametz (products not kosher for Passover) during Pesach. If they do, they are fined heavily. This is not freedom of choice. Passover has so many laws that bind the non-observant as well as the observant that one can hardly view Passover as a “Festival of Freedom” from slavery.