Thursday, April 2

Passover - Has it Become Irrelevant?

A page from a 14th century German Haggadah
A page from a 14th century German Haggadah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Pesach (Passover) is here and apart from gorging ourselves to the hilt and reciting the Haggadah to celebrate the liberation from slavery of the Israelites from Pharoanic Egypt over 5 000 years ago, much has happened to the descendants of the Israelites over the centuries.

Suffice it to say, Jews were a persecuted minority for centuries in Christian Europe. This had changed in the 19th Century when awareness of human rights for all was in the process of becoming part of the constitution of much of the Western World as we know it.

During the years of persecution, Jews all over the world celebrated Pesach with a feeling of joy and hope including the centuries-old desire to return to Jerusalem, which was never forgotten, and is recited at the end of the Haggada-reading ritual, an integral part of the Passover Seder. Today the words “Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem” are recited at the end of the reading.

While we in Israel celebrate Pesach, the festival of our liberation from the Pharaohs of Egypt, there is a feeling among many of us that Pesach has lost its significance. Many observant families go to great lengths to ensure that the food eaten during the Pesach week is Kosher for Pesach including, of course, refraining from eating leavened bread. The meaning of Pesach is freedom and liberation from oppression and slavery.

If we are so concerned about freedom and liberation of our people, we should also be concerned with other people in Israel, who are not free. Thoughts of failure in our treatment of refugees (non-Jewish) in our midst as well as migrant or foreign workers should be uppermost. We have a new government in Israel that is right wing and is insensitive to those who happen to arrive here because of  the danger to their lives in their mother countries under despotic rule. Many refugees arrive here fleeing from the "pharaohs" of their countries. The Sudanese from Darfur and Eritreans are examples. Some refugees arrive after months of wandering in deserts, escaping marauding tribes of Bedouins, who were out to threaten them unless they paid them ransom money to survive. Egypt had blocked them. In their survival quest, they landed up in southern Israel. It is a moral dilemma for Israel but if they receive refugee status according to international law of which Israel is a signatory, Israel becomes responsible for their welfare.

How does Israel treat these refugees? Detention in various inhuman camps such as Saharonim and Holot in the south is prevalent. Conditions in these camps are shocking and the overcrowding is beyond words. Refugees are encouraged to leave but have nowhere to go. If they return to their countries of origin, they face death.

The migrant and foreign workers, many of them coming from the Philippines, India and Thailand are contract laborers. The caregivers of our aged are on duty 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. While these people get free board and lodging by their employers. Time off is a gesture and not compulsory as there is no law to protect them from exploitation. Many caregivers do other chores in the home and do housework which is not part of their contract. They also do Pesach cleaning for the family. I guess this is how we celebrate our freedom from oppression according to the teachings of the revered Late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said that the "goyim (strangers or non-Jews) were created by God to serve the Jews".  This "sage" has made many hurtful, racist statements in the past. This explains many paradoxes in our treatment of "the goyim". Sources in Judaism seem to back this up. If a contracted foreign worker's work permit expires, come hell and high water, he /she cannot renew the work permit under any circumstances.What about the lot of asylum-seekers whose future is perpetual exile? It is a matter of time before the Israeli Immigration Police sniffs them out and deports them to a detention center awaiting expulsion from Israel under demeaning conditions. They live in fear as this could happen at the whim of an unscrupulous employer or informer (shtinker).

Our treatment of our own fellow non-Jewish citizens in Israel can be improved. We were warned by our Prime Minister on Election Day that the Arabs and leftists are coming out "in droves" to vote and could be a danger to our survival. The apathetic right came out to vote in panic to neutralize "Arab danger" in order to ensure "our freedom".

It is sad that our country, Israel, prides itself in its democracy is lacking in sensitivity towards those, who are the weaker sectors of society and this includes the minorities. Freedom from oppression and exploitation should be applicable to all sectors of our society and this should be the message of Pesach. If we become slaves to Pesach rituals and not respect the right of freedom from exploitation of others then Pesach ceases its relevancy. Children of asylum-seekers have the worst deal and officially are non-existent. 

Happy Pesach to all and spare a thought for the weaker members of our society and not only be partisan towards our own people.

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