Topics: Passover

The Relevance of Passover to Our Contemporary Society

Many don’t believe the Exodus really happened, but all come together for Passover due to the pull of our Jewish identity

The Passover table.
Nati Shohat/Flash90

Last Thursday, families got together again to celebrate the second Passover holiday at the end of the Passover week, which commemorates the parting of the Red Sea. Though we Israelis take this family gathering for granted, celebrating something that many Jews believe to be a myth is anything but obvious.

Folks in Israel are not of one mind on this matter, and rounding up family members for a feast reminding us of a long-ago miracle some think never happened deserves some sort of explanation that goes beyond the simple desire for a family get together. Take my extended family, for example. Around the table were sitting people who can’t agree on almost anything. Some of them are on the far side of the Israeli political left. Some are on the far side of the Israeli political right. Others are scattered in-between. Our family represent the full political spectrum, and yet is still able to share this meal together.

One may be tempted to think that such a gathering is possible because of our adoption of post-modern identity politics, which gives equal value to any faith and belief. But that can’t be the glue, given that identity politics is not an expression of love, but rather a progressive idea of tolerance that is rejected by at least half the family sitting around the table. The religious convictions of some are scorned by others, and the divisive list goes on, yet, despite it all, families are still able to overcome these differences and sit together to eat and retell a story some believe, and some don’t.

And this is possible, so I believe, because of our shared Jewish legacy, that has instilled within us the kind of love that is able to overcome the insurmountable obstacles that keep coming our way in different shapes and forms. It is love that makes even the most devoted atheists among us hold on to their Jewish identity, and it is love that enables those who believe the Exodus really happened to embrace those who relegate the biblical narrative to the realm of mythology.

And we have learned about this kind of love from the stories we tell at the Passover table for thousands of years. Each year on Passover, we repeat the tale of the four sons, which takes for granted that the prodigal son has always been considered part of the family. And we are reminded of our idol-worshipping forefathers, just to make sure none of us deigns to consider ourselves better than them.

Likewise, the second Passover holiday recounts the tale of the two Israelites, who while crossing the sea between two huge walls of water, were preoccupied examining the mud upon which were walking, comparing it to the mortar they were slaving to make in Egypt, thus missing out entirely on the divine event engulfing them. Yet, these rational unbelievers safely crossed the parted sea together with the believers. It is this kind of legacy that enables us today to love one another despite ideologies that threaten to irreparably divide us.

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