On the first night of Passover, Jews around the world hold a ceremonial dinner called a “Seder”. This commemorates the Exodus from Egypt described in the bible.
Every year, at the same time, for thousands of years, Jews have gathered their family and friends together to hold the Passover Seder. It’s a big event where typically lots of people are invited, large amounts of food are prepared and consumed – and tradition is passed on, from one generation to the next.
During the Seder a book called the “Hagaddah” is read aloud and discussed. “Hagaddah” comes from the Hebrew word “lehageed” which means, “to say” or “to speak”. The purpose of the Seder is to speak of God liberating the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and teach the next generation what this means. We are commanded to remember being freed from slavery as if it happened to each and every one of us. It was not something that occurred in ancient history, WE were slaves, WE were granted freedom – which led to becoming a Nation and being granted the Land of Israel.
Those who remember slavery know the value of freedom.
One of the things it says in the Hagaddah is that: “In every generation someone rises up against us, to exterminate us (the Jewish people) and each time God saves us.” As someone (relatively young) who has lived through (only) two wars and two Intifadas I can only imagine the terror and feeling of hopelessness of those who lived during the Holocaust (or the Spanish Inquisition, or any number of terrible times in our history). Sometimes it seems that there is no hope at all.
This year my family held the Seder with friends who live in Jerusalem.
Lenny carefully chose the route to get there. Driving with me and his two children, safety was in the forefront of his mind. That is why we did not take the fastest route. That road passes next to Arab villages that are hostile to Jews. The Arab residents have a tendency to throw rocks and Molotov cocktails on passing Jewish cars. Sometimes they shoot guns as well. The Israeli army needs to protect Jews who want to drive to the capital of their own country. Usually they succeed, sometimes they don’t.
We arrived safely to our Seder. The Mizrachi family did not. Baruch Mizrachi saw the terrorist and stomped on the gas to try to get his wife and children away from the danger. The terrorist sprayed bullets, killing Baruch, wounding Hadassah. She moved her dead husband and managed to gain control of the car while her children were crying “Daddy get up! Daddy, why aren’t you answering me?” She ordered them to unbuckle their seat belts and lie on the floor of the car. She covered her wound with a sweater so her children would not see the blood spilling out of her. Hadassah called the Police, telling them about the attack, managed to stop the car and the Army came. She told the soldiers: “You will have to bandage me” but her first concern was that her children not be traumatized by the sight of their dead father.
The scenario that had concerned Lenny did not happen to us. It happened to a different Israeli family.
Do you worry about being murdered on the way to Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner? Do you ever consider that you might be attacked on the way to your capital? Freedom is so very important… even now Israel is being pressured by America to release terrorists similar (and worse) than those that killed Baruch.
The Hagaddah concludes the Seder with the statement: “Next year, in Jerusalem.” This year, when the Seder was over it was 2:00am and it would take some two hours to drive home. Somehow being tired didn’t matter. We were in Jerusalem. We found ourselves drawn to the heart of the city – the Kotel, the Western Wall (the last remaining, visible remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple that Jews are allowed to access).
I don’t think that any of us was consciously thinking that Passover is one of the three holidays that the Nation of Israel was commanded to visit the Temple. It just seemed right to go there.
The fact that it was the middle of the night didn’t matter either. The Kotel is never alone.
As we approached we heard singing. Loud singing. It was not the sound of prayers, or maybe it was prayer of a different sort. Walking into the plaza in front of the Kotel we found an unusual sight. Then again, you never know what will happen when you visit the Kotel. A large circle of 18-22 year olds were sitting on the floor, pouring heart and soul in to singing Hatikva, the Israeli National Anthem. “Hatikva” means “the hope” and the song speaks of the hope of, after 2000 years, being free in our own country. How appropriate.
The group saw us approach and without missing a beat, opened their circle, inviting us to join them. They sang about Jerusalem and about how when you have God you are never alone or afraid.
Each time someone approached (coming to pray at the Kotel or leaving, after having finished praying) the circle was opened and they were invited to join the singing. A few joined, others did not. Everyone smiled.
When there was a lull in the singing we learned that they were a Jewish youth group with members from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand who had come to stay in Israel a while. They had their Passover Seder in Jerusalem and when they were finished they were drawn to the Kotel. It just seemed right.
Watching the faces of the singers, seeing the passion and sincerity they put in to their song Lenny and I suddenly had the inexplicable feeling that maybe there is hope…
In every generation there will be those who rise up against us. There will also be those that counter-balance, those that are unwilling to give up and those that will provide hope for others.