Passover is a holiday of liberation, retelling the story of Jewish slaves in Egypt and their exodus. We use food to symbolize different parts of the story: maror to remind us of the bitterness of slavery; charoset to represent the mortar used to build the pyramids; karpas to celebrate the welcoming of spring and new life with salt water to reminds us of our ancestors’ tears; and matzah to remind us of the rush of the exodus as the bread didn’t have time to rise — eat that for a week and you’ll be newly grateful for any yeast you can find.
Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now, we sit together and remember our ancestors’ hardships and give thanks to the freedom we’ve found.
Passover is one of my favorite holidays, because it is always relevant; Jews have been persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism is still alive and well. That said, many others have been and continue to be persecuted, and our suffering is neither more important nor severe than anyone else’s. On Friday, just hours before the first night of Passover, 14 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 wounded by Israeli fire on the border of Gaza during a Palestinian protest. Just hours before the seders began, soldiers were dropping tear gas over countless civilians fighting for the same cause we fought for — freedom and liberation.
There are layers upon layers of complexity in this issue, as historical, religious and emotional stakes are very high. Similarly, leaving Egypt was no small feat and the stakes then were very high — that’s why we celebrate the story and remember it so vividly. Yet on this holiday, we continue to violently oppress an entire people. Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, severely limiting human travel and cutting them off from medical supplies, food, electricity and more.
As Jews, we know the importance of resistance and resilience, and if we’ve forgotten, this timely holiday is here to remind us. So why this double standard? Why was our fight for freedom, which was violent and cruel (a commanded killing of a newly born child is never warranted), something to celebrate while a Palestinian protest is something we feel the need to suppress? Why is Jewish liberation more important than that of Palestinians’? It’s not.
My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. He survived a mass genocide of his people, and he moved to Israel. My family is in Israel. My parents are from Israel. I identify with Israel. So why is this country that is supposed to be a safe haven for Jews treating others the way we were treated? When we think back to the tragedies that took so many Jewish lives, we say, “Never again.” But we turn a blind eye to Israel’s oppressive and abusive behavior and continue to celebrate it without question. It’s time to wake up and ask these questions!
I am proud of my heritage and culture, but how can this country that is supposed to represent that be so cruel?
I know I will hear arguments about the Palestinians starting it and throwing stones and this and that — I’ve heard it all before. But ask yourselves, why do children feel the need to throw stones? Why are they so afraid of an Israeli soldier? Is it because they lost a family member to the blow of one of their guns? It very well could be.
As Jews, we understand suffering and displacement. We know the hardships of being driven from our homes and fighting with nothing to lose. So where is our empathy? Palestinians, especially in Gaza, have been oppressed and dehumanized for decades. It’s on us to understand the hardships that have caused the oppression and work to make it better. It’s on us to meet Palestinians where they are, because if our history has taught us anything, it’s empathy in suffering.
Israel’s oppression and violence is not acceptable, and as Jews we have a responsibility to say that out loud. Israel’s actions are shameful and not reflective of our culture and history. It doesn’t need to be this way, but it is, and we can’t ignore that.
So on Passover, as you eat your charoset and drink your wine, as you remember the 10 plagues and sing Dayenu, sing it for those in Palestine who are no longer able to sing themselves. Sing it for the lives lost to violent military control and do something to change the story. We need to question and criticize Israel if we care about a fair and just Jewish nation.
On April 19, some will celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day. On that day, take pleasure in how good it feels to be liberated and remember that everyone deserves that sense of freedom. It’s time to free Palestine.
Alona Henig is an LSA junior.