Sunday, April 6

Pesach (Passover) – the Festival of “Freedom”

The season of Pesach (Passover) is round the corner. It is a time for reflection for many people, though by no means all. It is a festival filled with ritual and the usual arguments of “Kosher for Pesach” and the fines for selling “non-Kosher for Pesach” or chametz foods in public places has yet to begin. This festival is the commemoration of the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.Today it has lost its relevance for many of us.

It is a time when rabbis of all shapes and sizes come out with halakhic rules as to what is “Kosher for Pesach” and what is not. The list is becoming more and more exotic and at the same time more   Those people who live in Israel and do not have deep roots here feel more and more estranged and isolated. This applies to many people who were not born here and have no family. It is a time of depression as many of us do not have any identification for this festival at all. Homes are turned inside out – an added stress searching for leaven (chametz). There is the pressure and stress that culminates in the grand climax of the Seder night when the Haggadah is read relating the story of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt and their liberation from the Egyptian oppression.

The preparation for this festival is onerous and the family pressures where to spend Seder night is stressful. Those who have nowhere to go are under the most stress. There are families who invite people who have no relatives in Israel to spend Seder night with them. This is considered a mitzvah or good deed that is looked on favorably by God. 

Housewives, who barely exercise, get a spurt of energy to clean every nook and cranny in their homes. This involves climbing ladders and almost acrobatic movements to reach hard-to-get places in the home. Household accidents result as rather overweight housewives miss a step and tumble down from the top of the ladder inevitably landing up in the casualty department of the hospital closest to home with broken limbs. This Pesach-cleansing ritual is a seasonal obsession.

The relevance of Pesach as a festival of freedom is lost for many reasons. It is a festival that conjures up obsessions for the “Kosher for Pesach” foods that result in the annual hair-splitting arguments between the secular and religious. The losers are inevitably the secular who have to kowtow to the whims of the religious who have the law on their side. What is free about that? Religious coercion reaches a climax during the Pesach week.

Another aspect and one that very few people give a thought is the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. Their limited freedom is even further curtailed. Road-blocks, closures and checkpoints are stricter. The reason is always security. However, the difficulties that innocent Palestinians have to endure are further increased by this “Festival of Freedom”. The Israeli soldiers who are on duty in the occupied territories are even more abusive and insensitive to Palestinians to ensure that the “Festival of Freedom” is not “interrupted” by Palestinians.

It is difficult and even hypocritical to celebrate a festival of freedom while denying another people basic human rights. The settlers in the occupied territories show their presence during this “Festival of Freedom” when they trespass on Palestinian lands. At the same time the Israeli government is still expanding settlements on Palestinian land. Racist rabbis continue their anti-Arab diatribes and this does have much influence for the celebration of Pesach.

Several rabbis have used the excuse of "security" in the wake of the Mercaz HaRav shooting to issue racist halakhic (religious) rulings against Arabs. Haaretz reports Rabbi Dov Lior, chairman of the rabbinical council for settlers in "Judea and Samaria" (the West Bank), decreed "It is completely forbidden to employ [Arabs] and rent houses to them in Israel. Their employment is forbidden, not only at yeshivas, but at factories, hotels and everywhere."

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, considered a world-wide Orthodox authority on Jewish law, held "that it is completely forbidden to hire Arabs, especially in yeshivas; there is a concern for endangering lives." Indicating that security might not be the only motivation for this ruling, Kanievsky added that Jews should refrain from hiring any non-Jews, "unless there exists a huge disparity between the costs of the labor," in which case non-Jews could be hired.

While these are recent examples, Mossawa, an Arab civil rights advocacy group in Israel, documented dozens of instances of racist declarations by public figures and thousands of examples of incitement on the Internet in 2007 alone. From
The Jerusalem Fund Information Brief
This article continues. In its 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, the Israel Democracy Institute found that 87 percent of all Israeli citizens rated Jewish-Arab relations in the country as being "poor" or "very poor."28

In addition:
· 78 percent of Israeli Jews opposed having Arab parties or ministers join Israel's government.29
· Just 56 percent of Israeli Jews support full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and an identical number agreed that "Arabs cannot attain the Jews' level of cultural development."30
· 75 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement that "Arabs are inclined to violent behavior" (as compared with 54 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel who had an equivalent view of Israeli Jews).31
· 43 percent of Israeli Jews agreed that "Arabs are not intelligent" and 55 percent agreed that "the government should encourage Arab emigration from the country."32
A recent Haifa University survey found that half of Israeli Jews object to Arabs living in their neighborhoods (56 percent of Arabs supported residential integration with Jews).33 Similarly, ACRI reported that 75 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed said they would not agree to live in the same building as Arabs. The same survey found that more than half of Israeli Jews felt that Arabs and Jews should have separate recreational facilities.34
There are two consistent trends among all these surveys: both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews hold some prejudices towards each other, but on almost every measure, Israeli Jewish views of Arabs are more negative and extreme than Arab views of Jews; second, the negative trends have risen markedly in recent years as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has intensified. Between 2005 and 2006, there was a 26 percent rise in racist incidents targeting Arabs, and the number of Israeli Jews reporting they felt "hatred" towards Arabs doubled to 30 %. 5
While many right wing rabbis remain at the helm of decision making in this country, those citizens, who are liberal and tolerant, find it more difficult to view Pesach as the “Festival of Freedom”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your intentions are nice but your thinking is a touch muddled. Let me be as clear as I can:

Just because I hate somebody doesn't make me a "Racist". If the Canadians or the people who wear plaid pants were shooting us up, I might hate them.

In fact, we might make it a rule to stop all associations with people who wear plaid pants or with Canadians, as the case may be.

People in time of war and death sometimes use bad language. That doesn't mean that the bad language caused the war.

As it turns out, the Jewish Israelis come in more colors than the local Arabs. The Jews are more racially diverse.

There are lots of incidents. Classifying any of them as "Racial" is at best highly questionable. It is however, pejorative, trivializing, and a deliberate failure to understand the issues.