In these days of the Hebrew month of Nissan we direct our hearts and open our arms to receive another celebration of Passover:
- hearts, to rejoice in our liberation as a People from the yoke of slavery in Egypt;
- arms, cleaning the chametz from our homes, preparing the house for the Seder, and practicing all the rituals of this holiday.
Pesach, with its magical family call to reunion, returns us in such a perfectly natural way - perhaps more than any other Jewish holiday - to the delight and appreciation of our being Jewish, mixing an enjoyable reunion with our loved ones with an occasion for national memory and strengthening of our Jewish identity. Reading the Haggadah brings us back more than 3300 years, to the plagues and our freedom, to our redemption as a People. We recall our surge to freedom through singing of psalms and piutim - poems, and we welcome the fact that we are now free - more than ever so in our glorious time of an independent Jewish State.
As with Purim - when we usually forget that the Jewish people actually had to fight against not only Haman, but also his followers, killing more than 75,000 of them -- on Pessach we tend to ignore we did not always live under an oppressive regime in Egypt. Out of the hundreds of years that the Benei Israel dwelled in that land - from the establishment of Yaacov and his children in times of Yosef - many became prosperous, a recognition of Yosef's outstanding achievements which made Egypt a great and powerful kingdom. The Jews lived at first in Eretz Goshen, a good and fertile land, and maintained their Jewish identity and faith in one God despite living in the generally accepting and attractive milieu of pagan Egypt.
We have clear historical evidence of how assimilation grew among the members of our people in times of general acceptance - as it occurs today in the free world. So what were the reasons that the Children of Israel in those days kept their Judaism?
Rabbi Yaacov Culi - usually known for his work, "Me'am Lo'ez" written in Ladino, answers this issue: "... the Jews stayed away from the Egyptians and were distinguished by
- their special garments...
- their language [Hebrew]
- their Name [Hebrew]
- and their Law,
which remained unchanged during their stay in Egypt." In other words, the Jewish people did not assimilate into the great Egyptian culture because they maintained key elements of their Jewish specificity. These were sufficiently meaningful and valuable to be maintained and transmitted to future generations - even under the pressure of slavery and discrimination.
In an era in which we are constantly invited to discard "the burden" of our being Jewish and thus join the general society - especially in these days of increasing anti-Semitism, when the world seems to be resuming its most virulent verbal attacks against us... What are the elements of our being Jewish that we guard and preserve in order to keep our Judaism alive and relevant and specific to our People and our families?
Our opportunities for this are in fact many, and all are intrinsically valuable: a permanent and active relationship with the State of Israel - at its best, to actually join ourselves through aliyah with the destiny of the Jewish State; an active community life in our Maccabi Territorial Organizations and in the Jewish Community at large; the Jewish ritual in the family; study of our timeless sources and practice of its teachings; individual and group prayer in the synagogue; leadership of Jewish-Zionist organizations in our country... the possibilities are endless, and all complement one another, thus multiplying the opportunities for Jewish life infused with joy and significance.
Without specificity there is no Judaism. If our messages of values and ideals and our national and cultural identity were or are exactly the same as those of the Western World... So, why continue being Jewish? Without Israel, Torah, Community, Jewish socialization, youth groups - like our own Maccabi TzairOlami, our fantastic Maccabi Youth Movement... what will keep us alive, relevant, growing, carrying a message worthy of being transmitted and multiplied?
Our greatest modern thinkers affirmed time and again that being Jewish is a way of life (it was so obvious to thinkers of earlier times that they had no need to state it). Judaism is action, facts in our lives. This Pesach we must rethink what and how many of those facts are present in our family, our community and our Maccabi, facts that keep Judaism and Zionism active and relevant, facts that have so much to tell, and that we not always deal with properly. If we believe in continuity, we must imbue our everyday action with Jewish-Zionist content, with more Maccabi, more Jewish Youth groups, more trips to Israel, more camps, more Jewish friends, more study of our sources and Hebrew, tefilah and celebrations in our family. Our Judaism is a construction, just as all other areas of our existence are works that we must continue building and maintaining.
May God grant that this Seder and its preparations inspire us to develop a Jewish-Zionist action for ourselves and our beloved, imbued with challenging and relevant content to ensure the continuity of the eternal messages of our People.
May God grant that this Pessach Celebration inspires us to recover the outstanding significance of the National Freedom and of the Redemption it brought to our People.
And May God bless this gathering of our cherished ones around the
Passover Table in loving embrace and meaningful dialogue.
Chag Pessach Sameach!
RABBI CARLOS A. TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union
The actual back-breaking slavery started approximately 86 years before the Exodus.
Talmudist and Biblical commentator of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who died in Constantinople, Turkey, on August 9, 1732.
 Me'am Lo'ez PassoverHaggadah.