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Peter J. Rubinstein
Sadness and Hope (Parashat Pesach)

Peter J. Rubinstein  |  March 30, 2002

This is a wonderfully joyful moment. Not only are we celebrating Julia’s becoming a bat mitzvah, an event that brings all of us great cheer, but it is also the Shabbat during Pesach. 

Now, the celebration of Julia’s hard work and attainment crowned by her insights into her Torah portion are unsullied. But the traditional joy of the observance of Passover this year is tarnished by events in Israel and great concern for the future. There is no need to recount the gruesome and mournful numbers of murdered and maimed Jews in Netanya, in Elon Moreh, and in a Jerusalem supermarket yesterday. 

Labeled the Passover Massacre, the devastating bombing in Netanya calls to mind other catastrophic onslaughts against our people throughout the centuries, particularly on Passover, when those who aimed at our destruction used the customs of the holiday to excuse their most egregious and perfidious and immoral attacks. Pogroms growing from the charges of the blood libel were common at this time of the season.

The massacre of Passover this year is against the backdrop of the Middle East where nothing is simple and where the best of intentions are immediately maligned. This week’s murders were the work of Hamas and Arafat’s own Fatah organization, which immediately and proudly took responsibility and, as though to make certain that their intentions were not misinterpreted, announced that their motivation was undermining the Arab summit and General Zinni’s consultations. Yet ever more clear is that the destruction of Israel remains an ultimate goal.

The quick spiral of violence leaves no one certain as to a simple and certain course of action. All of us are compelled to explain why the suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya as Jews gathered for Seder was particularly heinous, especially in light of the ongoing carnage in Israel. There is nothing decent about the Palestinian Intifada and nothing approaching moral equivalency in comparison to Israeli military responses against terrorists and Israel’s attacks on bomb-making facilities.

 It is increasingly difficult to countenance the arguments of those who say that the terrorists’ deliberate and wholesale murder of Israeli civilians and the Israeli response (which is deliberately planned to avoid hurting civilians) are equivalent actions on the moral scale. I take special note of the expressed sentiments of Kofi Annan, which are particularly noxious indicating a blatant anti-Israel attitude in the halls of the UN.

But the bombing at the Seder in Netanya was different both in scope and in purpose. Symbol is important. Attacking a West Bank Israeli settlement is an attack against Israeli policy. Attacking checkpoints on the West Bank is aimed at the Israeli military. Attacks at Café Moment are against Israeli citizens. 

But the murder of Hasidim leaving synagogue at the end of Shabbat and the massacre at a Passover Seder are attacks against Jews. Let us not be mistaken. The initial Palestinian explanation for the Intifada was to compel Israel to move back to the pre-1967 borders. Then it became clear that the purpose of Hamas and Fatah terrorism was ridding the Middle East of Israel. 

An attack at a Passover Seder is not about politics, borders, militarism or states. It is about Jews. We have entered a new phase of the battle.

I am not an alarmist and have never believed that anti-Semitism is a theological given of other religious traditions. But I think it is important that we take measure of what our Arab enemies are thinking and consider that we are no longer solely involved in political debate. The Park Hotel Passover Massacre should put us on notice.

So how to respond. In large measure I counsel what is counterintuitive, but urge us all to hope. The nature of the Passover narrative gives us the reasons—that redemption has been provided in the worst of times. We were raised out of slavery. We were led through the desert. We were given a land and we survived the worst expressions of genocide. We created a Jewish state with “The Hope”—”HaTikva”—as its national anthem.

In addition to hoping, we vow to support the people of Israel in every possible fashion. If not by visiting, then by supporting the economy through investment. If not investing, then supporting the nation’s morale by purchasing Israeli goods on the internet at or other available sites. At the least, make plans to attend the Israel Day Parade on Sunday, May 5.

If Jewish Israelis and we are part of the same family, then we need to behave as family. In this case, it would be helpful to confront the fact that recent attacks in Israel, and indeed in Europe, are against Jews for other than political reasons. In the past, we supported Israel by donations. Now we support Israel by bringing the bias of particular media outlets to public attention and demonstrate displeasure through CAMERA and Honest Reporting, two organizations founded to keep balance in reporting. We support Israel through standing up against those who make Israel the reason for violence. We support Israel by proclaiming ourselves as Jews and continuing to celebrate proudly the holidays as we do today.

We affirm hope in our lives. We recognize the message of this holiday of Passover and vow that nothing will make us afraid, that we search for light in the greatest darkness, and that we live with the message of exodus knowing that there will be better days with our effort, vigilance, and willingness to appropriately confront and combat our enemies.

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