Sara Lehmann, formerly an editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, is currently a mother and freelance editor residing in Brooklyn.
Pesach is here, and we Jews seem no further removed today from the slave mentality we suffered from thousands of years ago.
The imperative to relate the Exodus from Egypt and God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery to redemption is as relevant now as at any point in Jewish history. We are currently inundated with reports of Jewish sympathizers with Islamic fascism and self-hating Jews collaborating with anti-Israel agitators. The shackles of self-induced bondage have driven many Jews to descend into the pit of outright acquiescence with the pharaohs of today.
We seem to have tumbled to the forty-ninth level of impurity – the level to which the ancient Hebrews descended in Egypt and from which God rescued them. The descent now is not only in the arena of immorality but in the immoral identification with one’s enemies.
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The extent of this damage is alarming. I recently spoke about the political situation in Israel with a European Orthodox Jew and was shocked at how vehemently he opposed a Jewish presence in the West Bank and how he lamented the plight of the “poor Palestinians who also deserve a land of their own.”
This man and his family live in the shadows of both overt and veiled anti-Semitism, to the degree that they fear wearing a yarmulke in public while Muslims in long robes roam the streets of their neighborhood in droves. Unbelievably, the insidious slave mentality seems to have infected even religious Jews in Europe – the very people whom I would have thought to be the most immune to it.
The anti-Semites in this man’s birthplace have imbued their own prejudices into the very people those prejudices are directed against.
True, not all of us are guilty of such submissive behavior. Like the four sons in the Haggadah, the varying degrees of commitment (or lack thereof) we exhibit toward our heritage and faith are what define us. But the perilous state of Jews today in Israel and other parts of the world, coupled with the sorry lack of leaders to guide us through these times, serves to accentuate the spreading malaise in Jewish consciousness. We are in dire need of a burning bush.
There are those among us who find this attitude of concession to our enemies repugnant, but we find ourselves subject to the politically correct policing of our ideas. We are held captive by the “slave drivers” who control today’s democracies – and we feel there’s nothing we can do about it.
This sentiment was verified to me on a recent trip to Israel by the most reliable barometer of Jewish public opinion there – a cabdriver. He complained bitterly about the tyrannical subjugation of the rightist viewpoint, however many citizens may hold to it, by the leftists who pull the levers of government, courts and media. Anyone who speaks out against this enslavement, he maintained, is silenced by the Left or branded a madman.
The majority of Jews in Israel may recognize the suicidal follies of their government, but they are held hostage by it at the same time. Ariel Sharon was twice elected prime minister by a landslide precisely because he appealed to the people’s sense of security and because he ran on a platform opposed to the idea of “disengagement.” (How eerily reminiscent of Pharaoh’s deceitful enlistment of Jewish support and labor in ancient Egypt.)
The bitterest herb I have to swallow this Pesach is the realization that I, too, despite my fervent belief in our God-given right to the entire land of Israel, have been affected. My latest trip to Israel seemed bittersweet. Try as I might to celebrate the little time I had to spend there, I was plagued by frustration at the prospect of watching the country sink lower than it had ever sunk before. The elation I used to feel on landing at Ben-Gurion Airport was missing.
I rattled my chains of despair when contemplating the downward spiral of the country I love but, try as I did, could not shake them off. It was then that I realized I also had not entirely left Egypt. If I allow pessimism and cynicism to master my thoughts and feelings, I am left in bondage to them.
I do not advocate naivete in the face of overwhelming facts on the ground. I realized, however, that I cannot permit myself to forget how “our God took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.” If we dwell solely on the negative, a defeatist attitude can’t help but ensue, and we will find ourselves defeated without a real struggle.
If Israel is to emerge victorious from its present crisis, we must believe the words of the Haggadah. “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.”