It seems like far more and far less than a year since the last Pesach, when we still were grappling with covid, getting back together tentatively. Remember the year before? That’s when we were sunk in the middle of the pandemic, not knowing if it would end, some of us having small seders, some of us sitting at prudent distances from our families.
And then there was the year before, 2020, the pandemic just a month old, vaccines not even a glint in Dr. Fauci’s eye, everything strange and each one of us little individual self-contained cells; if we were lucky enough to be in a family, perhaps a multi-nucleus cell. (Is that a real thing? It is so easy to be carried away by language!) And of course for many of us at least there were dogs and cats.
Now we can concentrate on the message of Pesach, about liberation. About moving from darkness to light.
There’s an awful lot of darkness around us right now. Authoritarianism is back in fashion. The world is changing, as Alexander Smukler points out in these pages. The postwar peace seems to be ending. Even as constant an optimist as Abe Foxman is feeling despair — a despair that he fights back — as also is clear in these pages.
The situation in Israel is unlike anything any of us have seen there; it’s easy to say that with confidence because nothing like it ever has happened there before. In some ways Israel is like a mad scientist’s democracy laboratory: Let’s try a parliamentary system! Run by Jews! Let’s make it even less polite and orderly than the one the Brits have! But let’s not moor it to places, so that elected members of the parliament — I know! Let’s call it the Knesset! — run entirely on abstractions. Let’s leave local issues strictly to the municipalities, so there are no local alliances, and no questions about constituent services. Let’s arrange it so that tiny groups can hold inordinate amounts of power (because of course the more radical you are, the more willing you are to blow everything up, and the less you care about the scorched earth and chaos and demolition you leave behind, the more power you snatch).
Israel, as observers tell us, is on the verge of a complete breakdown.
There are good things that have come out of the situation so far. Most of them have to do with the behavior of the crowds who assemble in vast numbers. People are moved to come out and to bring their children. They don’t get violent. They don’t even get nasty. They just come and show up and by now they are unignorable. In their ordinariness, they are heroic.
As we move toward Pesach; as we gather around our tables and tell the stories of liberation and of our people and also of our own families, as some of us talk about the haggadah and others of us talk about politics and others of us talk about our children and our parents and our memories; as we feast on the foods whose aromas bring us back to other tables, to happy times, to sad times, to our own long-lost dead whose seats are filled now but who never are forgotten, we hope for better times for all of us.
We hope that the situation in Israel will resolve in a way that keeps the intricate minuet between Jewishness and democracy going, that the music that animates the dance keeps playing, and that our joy emerges and increases.
We hope for a sweet and liberating Pesach for all of us.