On the first night of Passover I shared a Seder with Lory’s extended family, all of whom are Jewish. I was, in a sense, the outsider. They didn’t treat me like an outsider, but I was the only person sitting around the Seder table who is not Jewish.
Before we sat down to the Haggadah, the book containing the story of the Exodus which provides the ritual for the Seder, the host announced that he had heard shocking news about a suicide bombing at a Seder in Israel just hours before the one we had gathered to celebrate.
As the children read portions of the story in Hebrew, each of them preparing for Bar or Bat Mitzvah, I listened with new ears. Somehow the story seemed to come alive and I realized that it’s not about something that happened way back when, but something that is happening now. The Passover story is the story of people who were in bondage and who were finally able to cross the Red Sea to move toward freedom. This story has always made sense to me as mythology- that is, a story in which I could easily find myself. That night it took on a new, deeper, more immediate meaning.
The latest war in Israel is another chapter in the yet-to-be-finished story of a people struggling toward freedom. In a recent sermon I referred to Israel as beleaguered in the sense of being assailed, or bombarded.
Following that sermon several thoughtful people told me that they thought I had failed to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian people. That same morning, before the sermon in which I referred to Israel as beleaguered, I remember staring at a photograph on the front page of the New York Times showing two Palestinian women in a cellar in which they had been holed up for weeks when their town was under siege. My heart ached for them, and for the tremendous suffering of the Palestinian people.
What’s happening, I think, is an unfortunate polarization: if you criticize the militaristic Sharon and his aggressive response to the terrorism, you are anti-Semitic. If you fail to acknowledge the great suffering of the Palestinians, you are too pro-Israel.
It is possible to see both sides. F. Scot Fitzgerald put it nicely in his book The Crack Up where he says, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
The test of a first-rate religious response to the violence in the world is the ability to keep compassion for those who suffer on all sides, and still retain the ability to speak justice to power- to hold back the tide of cynicism. Cynicism slowly sinks into the soul and steals those shredded remnants of faith in humanity that we need to get us through the day. May we find the courage and wisdom to preserve our souls in these trying times.