Tag Archives: passover

Of Matzoh Balls and Mythology

Guest columnist: Uri Avnery. On the day of the first seder, the legendary Israeli peace campaigner Avnery mailed out a fascinating piece deconstructing some of the “Exodus” mythology, and examining its nationalist purposes. I’m glad he’s agreed to me republishing his work. Pesach is a time of asking questions, of course, and I’ve always wondered about the implausibility of some aspects of Jewish history as it had been passed down to me: Just look around you at the seder table, and ask yourself, do these people look like they could be descendants of the residents of Biblical Judea? And remember, we’re told that this is a pretty closed bloodline; it’s a heritage supposedly passed on genetically through Jewish mating. Well, just look around the table and ask yourself, did the Judeans actually look anything like this? Continue reading

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Who Owns Passover?

Passover is a time of asking questions, and I have a few. This year, though, the furor that surrounded Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and his sermons that dared to suggest that this Christian nation may actually be earning God’s wrath and damnation for some of its behavior, reminded me of an issue I’d first encountered in South Africa: The idea that the Passover/Exodus narrative of the Hebrews’ flight from Pharaoh and slavery doesn’t belong exclusively to any tribe, but is a universal tale of freedom into which suffering people everywhere are able to insert themselves. And also that even if your forebears were victims of injustice, you’re quite capable of being a perpetrator of injustice.

It was easy to see how little our Jewish genetic lineage did to make us really Jewish in the South Africa of my youth, where every Passover, we sat around seder tables singing, in a barely understood Hebrew, of the days when we were slaves, while the black women who lived in our backyards under domestic labor system not that far removed from slavery, carried in steaming tureens of matzoh ball soup and tzimmes. We may have convinced ourselves that our DNA entitled us to claim this story as our own, but it was abundantly clear that in the South African context, most Jews had thrown in their lot with Pharoah, while the Israelites were working in their kitchens.

The mantle of justice associated with the Toraha prophets, it seemed to me later, was nobody’s birthright; it had to be earned.
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