Guest Post: A Passover Tale in 3 Parts / by Rabbi Levi Lauer

We are posting this piece with the permission of Rabbi Levi Lauer who teaches on the Yahel Social Change Program and is the Founding Executive Director of ATZUM. Thank you, Rabbi Lauer, for sharing this with us.

I.

Forty-seven years ago I had my first Seder Lail Pesah in Israel. Chaya and I were guests of my Hebrew University roommate’s large, immediate family at Moshav Barak. Their hospitality was inspirational, and generous to a fault. I barely survived a Moroccan meal of spiced intensity and quantity that was a serious challenge to my pale-faced, suburban, Midwest palate and kishkehs. They also sang and laughed endlessly, a joyous celebration of freedom in Zion far removed from the hostility mounted against small Jewish communities in the Atlas Mountains and in far larger North African, urban environments.

The Daninos worked tirelessly to make new lives, pharmacists become egg-farmers and small storekeepers. They struggled and succeeded in adjusting to Israel’s demands while dealing with the negative stereotypes Israel’s society maintained against their culture, their Maghreb dialect, their complexion. My roommate sought dates with more than a few coeds. “We don’t date Moroccans,” he was reminded.

That’s largely behind us today, though a few ugly remnants of such bigotry remain. My roommate, Y., is now head of a department at the Foreign Ministry. His siblings are well educated and well achieved in nearly every way we’d measure “success”.

They paid the customary Israeli dues for getting there. “Danino” was Hebraized, foolishness insisted upon for most Diaspora-ridden names that came to represent the country abroad. Y. was captured, tortured by the Egyptians and held for long months in captivity after the Yom Kippur War. But they had come home to Zion, and home was a powerful antidote for that discomfort and suffering.

II.

I thought of all this again this week, and I can still taste the spices from that Seder. Another Danino (not related, I think), Israel’s Chief of Police, first displayed appalling ignorance of the law (“No one filed a complaint so we didn’t detain anyone.”) and then a contemptible equanimity in response to a race riot perpetrated by soccer fans. Celebrating a victory at the stadium adjacent to Jerusalem’s largest mall, hundreds rushed the food court overwhelming the few security guards. Dancing on tables chanting “Death to the Arabs,” they brutally beat many of the mall’s Arab employees, surrounded Arab women and children and spat on them. The police arrived 46 minutes later, closed the mall, sent everyone home — and arrested no one.

Until “Haaretz” put it on the front page three days later, almost one knew about it. A free press has power. The Police Chief secured better legal advice. The police detained 16 thugs using more than ample evidence from the mall’s security cameras. Twelve were given minor fines and banned for three years from the stadium; four await trial. The police say there will be more arrests.

No victim of the violence has yet filed a formal complaint. What Israeli Arab/Palestinian thinks reporting at the police station will be a decent experience, and who wants to risk the wrath of the mob? After all, but for the resistance of the mall’s ownership and store owners, the rioters would have been armed with knives.

You’re asking, “What of the decent folks?” There are more than a few. The mayor invited the Arab workers to his office and decried the violence. The mall’s general manager, genuinely shaken by the nearly murderous hate, expressed his outrage. An interfaith organization brought the victims candies and protested the riot. Haaretz is still giving the aftermath coverage. The Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Security were silent — maybe they were busy preparing for Pesah, Festival of Our Freedom.

III.

My great aunt and uncle walked much of the way to Petah Tiqva from Russia in the 1920’s. They found that strength in part because they wanted to breathe freely where no pogrom would threaten, or at least be able to defend themselves when the mob came in the uniforms of surrounding Arab states, or of terrorist “irregulars”. Their son became a general, commanded Zahal’s Artillery Corps, was a candidate for Commander-In-Chief.

Imagine that in the country they loved, sweated for and defended to the best of their abilities of heart, hand and mind we’ve produced homegrown, racist hooligans. Our homes and schools and yeshivot (a significant number of the rioters wore white shirts and black kipottzitzit flying) have raised kids and their fathers eager to hate — in deed.

At Seder this year I’ll try to be mindful enough to remember all this: the debts of gratitude I owe Y. and his family for making Israel so inviting, so wondrously, generously giving, so proudly determined to root a nation in the fertile grounds of hard work and of cultural, religious and political diversity; the honor I owe my family’s earlier generations who risked all to allow me the privilege of becoming a citizen of a State that wrestles with God, that teaches it sons and daughters to defend that privilege; and finally, that it’s now on my watch that Israel’s dignity and name will be re-shaped. On that watch there will be prison for progromniks, and soul-searching, soul- searing commitment to build the religion and humanism that make race riots unthinkable, or at least dauntingly difficult — for the sake of my kids and their kids and everyone who has not tired of standing guard and making Israel worthy of our devotion.

Written by Rabbi Levi Lauer and his wife, Chaya.

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