In Hebrew, Passover is also called the Holiday of Spring, Holiday of Matzot, and the Holiday of Freedom. Indeed, I love the arrival of spring, the food and the family gathering, but my favorite part is the message of freedom and its value for our people the Haggadah talks about. Starting from the Seder, through the upcoming memorial days, and until Yom Ha’atzmaut, this time of year takes us all the way from being slaves in Egypt to celebrating modern-day independence as a sovereign nation.
Reading over the Haggadah at this year’s Seder, here are some thoughts I’d like to share on the connection I see between Passover to Zionism and Israel activism on campuses these days.
Like the exodus from Egypt, I see in Zionism a movement of exodus from the Galut. As still many Jewish communities remain living outside of Israel, this does not necessarily mean only a physical exodus, but also a mental one. Leaving Egypt entailed a great deal of fear of the unknown, but nevertheless, Bnei Yisrael took daring steps and made their way to freedom. Similarly, despite the fears and the long road, Zionism gave our nation’s children from around the world the knowledge that no more are we living under foreign rule. We are among the luckiest generations in Jewish history to live at a time where thanks to the Zionist movement, an independent Jewish state exists. It empowers us by its purpose as a home for all Jewish people around the world. No more the only option Jews have is to be foreign subjects under another nation’s rule, but now for those living outside of Israel, it is a free choice that we make, knowing we have a place in the world that will welcome us if we’d decide to go there.
The book of Exodus commands us to “tell thy son” of the Jewish liberation from slavery, and I’d argue it is also our duty to tell the next generation the story of Zionism and its history. With every passing year on college campuses, through my work with Students Supporting Israel I encounter more young people who are not familiar with the history of the rebirth of the Jewish people’s effort to return to the land of Israel. It is a major problem we face as a nation. If the next generation will not know the foundations of the Zionist movement’s cause and legitimacy, they will not be able to respond to modern-day antisemites and anti-Zionists who are delegitimizing the very existence of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. If the next generation will lack the knowledge and confidence in telling the story of Zionism, we will not be able to claim the same sense of freedom that derives from knowing we are a sovereign people.
Another important factor relates to the way we tell the story. The Haggadah is not shying away from describing the atrocities done by the Egyptians to Bnei Yisrael. Yet, when it comes to modern-day pro-Israel advocacy, I see many who only want to highlight Israel’s humanitarian sides as a response to vicious claims against the Jewish state, refraining from discussing the difficult topics. However, I believe that it is time for us to openly discuss the atrocities done against modern Israel today. We should not shy away from pointing out the incitement against Israel and Jews done by Palestinians, Iran and their proxies; the terrorism against Israeli citizens and anti-Semitic attacks on our people globally; the unbelievable bias in international bodies; and the list goes on. The Haggadah example shows us it is just fine to talk about the ugly side, the obstacles that were put in our way, and not just the great miracles such as the splitting of the sea. Similarly, in the pro-Israel activism world, we must talk about the current challenges Israel and the Jewish people face, not just Israel’s or the Jewish people’s humanitarian aid efforts around the world.
Like Moses who led the people of Israel to the promised land but never entered it, so did Herzl lead the Zionist movement but did not live to see the independent Jewish state is born. Like Bnei Yisrael’s new generation who entered the land after Moses and was tasked with building it, our generation, that saw the dream of the early Zionist leaders turn into a reality, has the duty of protecting Israel and ensuring its continued existence.
Valeria Sinelnikov Chazin is the co-founder and chair of the board of directors of Students Supporting Israel.