As we noted, the Pesach Haggadah begins by emphasizing that a Jew can only be considered free when he or she lives in the Land of Israel, as it says: “This year, we are here; next year, in the Land of Israel. This year, we are slaves; next year, free people.”
Many Jews in the Diaspora don’t understand the meaning of this statement. They think it is talking about some other time and place in history, and not about today. For example, take all of the Jews living in America – they think that they are already free. But as we pointed out in our previous article, they are enslaved in the foreign, gentile culture which surrounds them. This cultural enslavement and identification with the foreign country they live in is so deeply ingrained in their psyches, it is almost like a cerebral lobotomy.
In order to illustrate this widespread amnesia, allow me to give a few examples of the difference between a Jew who grows up in Israel and his counterpart who grows up in America:
The Jewish youth who grows up in Israel learns Hebrew in school, while the Jewish youth who grows up in America learns English. Interestingly, Rashi teaches that if parent doesn’t speak to his child in Hebrew, it is “as if he buries the child” (Devarim, 11:19.)
The Jewish youth who grows up in Israel learns about the history of the Jewish People and Israel, while the Jewish youth who grows up in America learns about the history of America.
The Jewish youth who grows up in Israel learns that Abraham was the founding father of his nation, while the Jewish youth who grows up in America learns that George Washington was the founding father of his nation.
For the Jewish youth who grows up in Israel, the school year follows the Jewish calendar and its Jewish holidays, while for the Jewish youth who grows up in America, the school years follows the American calendar and America’s gentile holidays.
The Jewish youth who grows up in Israel sings the “HaTikvah” at the conclusion of important school and national events, while the Jewish youth who grows up in America sings “The Star Spangled Banner.”
When a Jewish youth in Israel watches the news on TV it’s all about Israel, while when a Jewish youth in America watches the news it’s all about America.
When a Jewish youth in Israel celebrates the Jewish holidays, he or she celebrates them in the Holy Land where the holidays are meant to be observed, while when a Jewish youth in America celebrates the Jewish holidays, he or she celebrates them in an impure and gentile land.
The Jewish youth who grows up in Israel becomes an Israeli soldier, defending the people and Land of Israel, while the Jewish youth who grows up in America, if he goes into the army at all, becomes a fighter for the United States army.
When the Jewish youth in Israel comes of age, he votes for the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, whose main concern is the welfare of Jewish People, while the Jewish youth who comes of age in America votes for the President of the United States whose main concern is the welfare of America.
The Jewish youth who grows up in Israel identifies with Israel and considers himself an Israeli, while the Jewish youth who grows up in America identifies with America and considers himself an American.
Whatever profession a Jewish youth chooses in Israel helps build the economy of Israel, while the profession which Jewish youth choose in America helps the economy of the United States.
You get the idea. The list goes on and on. In our home, on Shabbat, we often host young Jewish Americans who are visiting Israel on a Birthright program, and we are always struck by the gaping difference between them and our children. It is almost as if they were a different species of Jew because of their total absorption in America’s culture and values. That is why the beginning of the Haggadah is as true today as when we left Egypt. The Jews of the Diaspora are still slaves to a foreign culture. They may not feel their bondage, but they are as glued to America as were the Jews in Egypt who perished in the plague of darkness.
This Pesach, may the Almighty open our eyes to the messages of the Exodus story, and help us to live up to the declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem!”