In 1947, David Ben-Gurion went before the United Nations to plead the case for the establishment of the State of Israel.
“Three hundred years ago a ship called the Mayflower set sail to the New World. This was a great event in the history of England. Yet I wonder if there is one Englishman who knows at what time the ship set sail? Do the English know how many people embarked on this voyage? What quality of bread did they eat? Yet more than three thousand and three hundred years ago, before the Mayflower set sail, the Jewish people left Egypt. Every Jew in the world, even in America or Soviet Russia, knows exactly what date they left – the fifteenth of Nisan. Everyone knows what kind of bread they ate. Even today Jews worldwide eat Matzah on the 15th of Nisan. They retell the story of the Exodus and all troubles Jews have endured in exile. They conclude the evening with two statements: This year slaves; next year, free men. This year here; next year in Jerusalem in Ertez Yisrael. That is the nature of the Jew.”
Each year, attending a Passover Seder is the number one Jewish ritual. More people attend a Seder than light Hanukkah candles or attend High Holiday services. Yes, it is a time of family and tradition, but so are many other times in the Jewish year. Why aren’t we showing up at the family Sukkah in the numbers that show up for a Seder?
I believe it is because Passover is the story of survival. It is the optimistic story of a people enslaved for hundreds of years defiantly marching to freedom. No matter how bad the circumstance we face, there can be an Exodus. The Seder is the story of our freedom and it is a story that we know in detail because we retell it every year.
Many of us end our Seder each year with the singing of Had Gad Ya. “One little goat that my father bought for two zuzim.” It sounds like a nursery rhyme. It is so much more; it is a statement of survival. Each verse becomes more challenging, until the final verse, when the Holy One slew the Angel of Death. This nursery rhyme says those who victimize you will be victims themselves. That there is justice, and you can and will be free.
Over the past year, many of us have endured a plague, which changed our lives. Some who we loved and cared for did not survive the plague and our thoughts are with them. When will it end? When can we defiantly march out of our homes maskless?
Did you ever think about the song Dayanu that we joyously sing at our Seder? Dayanu is often translated, as “it would have been enough”.
Had he split the sea but not brought us through on dry land – Dayanu
Had he provided for our needs without feeding us Manna – Dayanu
Had he given us the Torah without bringing us to Israel – Dayanu
Would it have really been enough? The Jews would have drowned in the Red Sea if they did not walk through on dry land. The Jewish people would have starved in the dessert without manna. The Jewish people would still be wondering, without Israel. So, why do we sing this happy song and say it would have been enough – Dayanu?
Why? Because they did march through on dry land; they did eat manna; and they made it to the Promised Land. The Jewish people survived!
Throughout our history, in good and bad times, families have gathered for the Seder. Sometimes faced with horrible oppression all around, they told the story of the Exodus and they sang songs and said, “our liberation will happen soon”. The Seder is a time of optimism and time to remember, that we can overcome odds and survive.
It was with that optimism that David Ben Gurion addressed the UN, a few years removed from the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry. He knew that Jewish hope was renewed every 15th of Nisan throughout Jewish History. He saw a modern day Exodus bringing survivors to Israel. That was the story he addressed to the UN.
As some of us face another Passover separated physically from family and friends, we do so with the knowledge that this modern day plaque will soon be behind us. Next year may we all be together in health.
This year here; next year in Jerusalem. This year enslaved, next year a free people.
I wish you a healthy, safe and meaningful Passover.
Tom Sudow is the International President of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. But that is not his favorite title, that one is Papa to his five grandchildren!