The story of the Exodus from Egypt is well-known by Jews and non-Jews alike. We were slaves. We were punished. We won or earned our freedom. With the Seder, the story is digested with great food (yes, even matzah); we welcome Elijah; we sing and, of course, proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Months ago, I proposed a Seder of sorts that would remind us every year of the lies that foster antisemitism.
In our isolation this year, as we approach smaller, modified and Zoom-projected Seders, this is an opportunity to tell the story of antisemitism, not thousands of years of it exactly, but through at least 12 lies that represent that story. We can’t forget them and, sadly, neither can our enemies who recite them daily.
Amazingly, even in the face of this epic pandemic, Jews are blamed for the presence of the coronavirus. Actually and tragically, antisemitism is the pandemic that has endured for thousands of years. Perhaps those who perpetuate such lies should practice social distancing. Just as Moses told Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” we would urge Jew-haters, “Just leave us alone.”
So, let’s take note of these dozen lies as a part of the Exodus story. Feel free to share so this history is heard each and every year. Instead of “Dayenu,” proclaim simply “False.”
• Israel is an illegitimate state and Jews have no claim to the land. False. Artifacts and archaeology prove we’ve been there for 4,000 years.
• The Western Wall belongs to Muslims. Jews have no tie to it. Simply false.
• Zionism is racism. False.
• Israel seeks to be a colonial power. False.
• Settlements are the cause of violence in the so-called West Bank. False. A charter calling for the destruction of Israel is the cause of violence.
• Israel is an apartheid state. False. This is an insult to the institutional racism the world witnessed in Soweto and throughout South Africa.
• Israel keeps Palestinians in refugee camps. False. Palestinians keep Palestinians in refugee camps.
• The IDF operate like Nazi stormtroopers. False. Israel Defense Forces, with few exceptions, are known to defend Israel with great restraint.
• Israel targets innocents at Palestinian schools, hospitals and mosques. False. These sites are used to launch attacks through tunnels and to launch missiles.
• Israel is working to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque. False.
• Israel is to blame for the hopelessness that Palestinians feel. False in so many ways.
• And finally, Jesus was a Palestinian from Nazareth. False.
The Seder has told the story of slavery and freedom for thousands of years. It has been a vehicle for conveying similar willful acts against masses of Jews, from the Inquisition and the Holocaust to the refuseniks of the Soviet Union and beyond, often written into Seders as the fifth cup of wine.
So prophetic are the words in the Haggadah that we have come to understand that in every generation there are rulers who seek to destroy us. By definition, the Seder serves to tell this Exodus story. It is the event, beyond Yom Kippur, that is at the very core of our identity.
Thus, at a time when antisemitism manifests itself in so many different ways, we must ritually build it into an annual, timeless teaching moment.