Friday, March 30, 2007
A Passover Story
By Steven Plaut
Once upon a time, somewhere in the steppes of Eastern Europe, in the
Pale that contained many a Jewish village or stedtel, there roamed two
beggars. One of these hoboes was Jewish and the other a gentile. The two
transients were friends and far too lazy to hold any real job or to do any
work. So they wondered carefree, aimlessly and uselessly from village to
village, begging for food, sometimes collecting discarded things to sell,
here and there stealing some eggs or fruits off farm trees. It was a hard
life and they often found themselves on the brink of starvation.
One day the two were looking for someone from whom they could "shnorr"
some food when they came upon a Jewish village, a stedtel, whose residents
were all buzzing about, hurrying, scouring pots and pans, cleaning their
homes and cooking. The Jewish beggar suddenly realized that it was but a
few hours before Passover was to begin. "We have extraordinary good luck
today," he said to his gentile comrade. "Tonight begins Passover, a Jewish
holiday. Indeed, it is in many ways the happiest holiday of the year, with
mountains of food and drink. So here is my plan. Let us come into the
village just before evening. We will stand in the back of the synagogue.
We will tell them that you and I are both Jewish wanderers, far from home,
traveling to do some trading and seek our fortunes. And the local Jews will
invite us to the most wonderful banquet of our lives!"
His gentile comrade agreed to the plan. They entered the village
towards sunset and stood in the back of the "shul". And just as the Jewish
beggar had predicted, the plan went off like clockwork. The locals competed
with one another to see who would have the honor of hosting one of the
beggars at his own Passover seder. In the end, two families were selected.
After the evening prayers, the Jewish beggar went off to feast with one
family, while his gentile friend, pretending to be Jewish, went off to dine
and celebrate with another family.
The gentile beggar's mouth was already watering with the thought of the
wonderful delicacies he was about to devour. His belly was grumbling with
anticipation. But things were not going the way he had expected.
His hosts ushered him into a chair at a large table, set with candles
and many empty dishes. In the center, however, he saw nothing but some
pathetic hard boiled eggs, a few leaves, and a single small shank bone of
meat. "This for the entire assembly?" he thought. Then, instead of
pouncing on the food, his host poured everyone a single cup of wine, but a
small one. The beggar guest would have preferred a large bottle of vodka or
a barrel of gin or even some German beer.
But things just got worse. His hosts finished drinking their small
glasses of wine and then offered everyone at the table a few small leaves to
nibble. Not even enough to satisfy a rabbit! And they even insisted that
he dip these into an awful salty solution, which only made him more thirsty
and desperate to drink some real grog. Then to celebrate this "meal", they
broke into song and laughter, which went on for a whole hour.
When he was expecting them to serve him his dessert, they handed him
instead a piece of bread, but not one like anything he had ever seen before.
It was dry, evidently having been left out in the sun for a week, and barely
resembled real bread. It was hard and it crackled when he chewed on it.
Moreover it was served plain, with no oil or molasses or fat. "This is the
feast my friend promised me?" thought the beggar to himself. This is the
mountain of food these Jews eat to celebrate their happiest holiday?
And then just imagine his horror at what came next. Each of the
people at the table was given the most bitter and disgusting glob of
horseradish, something he would never ordinarily eat even if he were
famished. They even blessed God when they swallowed that horrid-smelling
and evil-tasting slop!
Convinced the "meal" was over, the beggar excused himself, said he was
needed elsewhere with great urgency, and left his hosts with an apology. He
then wandered the streets of the village, looking for his Jewish beggar
mate, preparing to thrash him in rage and scream at him for his empty
promise of a full stomach and a glorious meal.
It was only four hours later that he found his Jewish friend. The
Jewish beggar was wandering through the alleys, his shirt buttons popping,
his belly overfull, picking at his teeth, belching his pleasure. He was so
full of food that he could only walk along at a relaxed pace, humming to
himself with pleasure. His gentile friend was so weak with hunger that he
was unable even to pummel his friend. The Jewish beggar examined his
starving comrade with surprise. "What happened?" he asked. "Some feast you
promised me!" said the other. And then he told the Jewish beggar what had
happened, how his hosts had offered him a thimble of wine, less than a
handful of pathetic leaves in brine, a stale piece of bread of some sort
with nothing on it, and - In the names of all Saints - some horrid bitter
glob. "At that point I decided enough is enough," he explained, "and I got
up and left."
The Jewish beggar could not control his laughter. You do not
understand, he explained. Those were simply the earliest preliminaries of
the feast. You have snatched hunger from out of the horn of cornucopia!
Had you stuck things out for just a few more minutes, you would have been
served the most sumptuous feast of your life, a meal for kings, food that
would have sufficed you for a whole week of wanderings. There would have
been more food than you could eat, fish, eggs, meat, delights you can only
imagine, along with wine and drink. But you see, you abandoned hope only a
few moments too soon. Had you just a little more patience and
determination, you would have a belly filled to bursting. It would have
been one of the happiest nights of you life. Because you were impatient,
you spoiled everything."
* * * * *
The story of the two beggars is not a fairy tale nor a goodnight
fantasy for children. The gentile beggar in the story, the one who spoiled
everything because of his own ignorance and impatience, is the state of
Israel. Like the gentile beggar who did not understand where he was nor
what was going on, like the fool who misunderstood the preliminaries as the
entire meal, the state of Israel was on the verge of entering the most
wonderful, prosperous and liberated period of its existence in the early
1990s. Had it listened to the Jewish beggar, all would have been well.
Had it found patience and stamina to stick things out for just a little
longer, it would have achieved its deepest desires and fulfilled its
By 1990, the "first Palestinian intifada" had been defeated, suppressed
by force of Israeli arms. The dimensions of Palestinian violence were
dropping each month. It would likely have been ended altogether had Israel
used more vigorous force against it. Those Israelis saying they thought
Israel should use MORE force to end the violence outnumbered those saying
less force should be used by perhaps four to one. It was a near-consensus.
Israelis were in no mood to appease or capitulate.
The intifada violence that had begun in the late 1980`s had petered
out, with fewer and fewer incidents of violence by the month and with the
terrorists so desperate for weapons that they were concocting zip guns out
of household materials and Molotov cocktails, far more likely to scorch the
throwers than any targets. The best that the terrorists could do in most
cases was to toss rocks at Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip or in parts of
the West Bank, a phenomenon that was unpleasant, but not life-threatening,
and certainly was no existential threat to the entire country. Other parts
of the West Bank were fairly tranquil, including Bethlehem and Jericho.
Jews could walk or ride in security in many parts of the "occupied
territories" and in all of Israel.
The leaders of the Palestinian terrorists were off in distant Tunis,
with a few others in Damascus, places from which they could do little more
than pout and bluster. The world -- or at least the United States -- had
made its peace with the Israeli position that the PLO was not an acceptable
partner in any Arab-Israeli peace talks and that the most that Palestinian
Arabs could hope for would be a limited autonomy, with no role whatsoever
for the PLO. There was enormous support in the United States, and in parts
of Europe, for Israel's position that limited autonomy without the PLO was
more than generous and the best for which the Palestinians could hope, a
fair and just solution. Even the Egyptians were formally on board behind
that program. The Jordanian border was tranquil and the impoverished
Syrians afraid to risk any confrontations. Sure, the world belly-ached
when Israel used force to suppress the rioters and rock-throwers. But -
within Israel - there was near-consensus that the cause for the rock
throwing and Palestinian hooliganism was the use of insufficient force by
the Israeli army, not Israeli "war crimes" and brutality.
Few took seriously the notion that Palestinians were a "people"
deserving of their own state. Israelis were willing to treat them as the
Palestinian branch of the Arab people, entitled perhaps to control their own
lives and conduct their own local affairs - in exchange for foreswearing
violence, and this was a formula backed by the United States. While a few
demagogues in the US spoke about a Palestinian "state" and "people", this
was not the American official position. Calls for "self-determination" for
Palestinians were something usually restricted to the Third World dictators
or the anti-American leftist extremists in the West. Israelis themselves
were in near-consensus that Palestinian "statehood" was a nonstarter, and
that limited autonomy for Palestinians alongside Jewish settlement of the
West Bank and Gaza were the only plausible long-term peace strategy.
Things became even more encouraging when the United States trounced
Iraq, after Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Israel had earned American gratitude
and support for its own interests by sitting tight and turning the national
cheek when Saddam hurled his SCUD missiles at Tel Aviv. Americans were
angry at Arab aggressors and looking to kick Arab fascist butt. The PLO had
lost any residual sympathy it might have had in the United States and parts
of Europe when it chose to play the role of cheerleader for Saddam's
aggression against Kuwait. The Israeli public still had fresh memories of
the Palestinians dancing on their roofs when Saddam's SCUDs fell, and there
were very few in Israel who were willing to listen to anything about
"Palestinian rights". After their behavior in the Gulf War, even a head of
the semi-Marxist Meretz party stated that the Palestinians could go get
stuffed. There was virtually no sympathy for the idea of making any further
"goodwill gestures" to the Palestinian barbarians who had danced in glee and
screamed, "Saddam, Saddam, Incinerate Tel Aviv."
In the early 1990s, the Israeli economy was booming, riding the crest
of the high-tech revolution. The country was being flooded with immigrants
from the countries that had comprised the Soviet empire. They were arriving
with their economic drive, their advanced degrees and skills, together with
others from Argentina and France. The standard of living in Israel had
reached the levels of the middle tier of Western European countries.
Israelis enjoyed their Scandinavian-style welfare benefits, their
almost-free medicine, their world-class universities. While many Israeli
Arabs voted for the anti-Zionist Stalinist Party to show their contempt for
their own country and their solidarity with its enemies, many others did not
and voted for the Zionist parties, maintaining cordial relations with Jews.
Tourism was recovering, as the intifada violence was suppressed. Even the
weather cooperated, with some wet winters, and the Sea of Galilee even burst
its banks, full of water.
And into this near-pastoral tranquility burst the Oslo ``peace
process", led by the ignorant beggar who did not understand that the
greatest of feasts was nigh. Oslo was based on the proposition that
economic interests and consumerism had replaced military power as the
determinants of international relations in the post-modern world. It sought
to reduce tensions with the Palestinian Arabs, who had just been defeated in
their intifada, by importing the PLO`s leadership from Tunis and Damascus
into the ``occupied territories`` and then allowing it to arm itself and
build up an army in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, bankrolled and
armed by Israel itself. Like the beggar who snatched starvation from the
jaws of plentitude, the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres
succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They turned the
near-tranquil Israel of the early 1990s into the Shadow of the Valley of
Peres and Rabin became convinced that the most promising path towards
peace was Israeli capitulation to Arab demands and appeasement of the
planet's worst Islamofascist terrorists. Peres and Rabin lectured the
country about how there was not peace because the Israelis were not strongly
desirous enough of it. They believed that the best strategy for achieving
Middle East peace was to flood Israel with billboards and bumper stickers
about how nice peace is and how nasty war is. The Israel Left used its
control of the government and mass media to attack the Israeli soul and
morale, hectoring Israelis about their "insensitivity" to the Palestinian
The PLO was invited into the outskirts of Israel's main cities. It set
up an army of tens of thousands of soldiers, now controlled by the Hamas,
possessing anti-aircraft missiles that threaten Israeli civilian and
military air traffic, and a system of police-state control over the
Palestinian population. The Palestinian stormtroopers possess anti-tank
weapons, Katyusha rockets, and al-Kassem rocket factories. The Gaza Strip
is today a large mortar and rocket factory. The goodwill measures of Israel
produced a campaign of Nazi-like hatred led by the Palestinian Authority,
down to and including virulent Holocaust denial accompanied by Holocaust
justification (never mind the contradiction).
Oslo was based on the proposition that armies are obsolete and so also
is patriotism, that appeasement of fascist terrorists is the surest path to
true peace, that Israeli self-abasement is the highest form of patriotism,
that cowardice is the highest form of valor, that the best way to end war is
to pretend it does not exist. The Rabin-Peres government adopted as its
mantra that old Peter and Gordon song, "I don't care what they say, I won't
stay in a world without love." Peres and Beilin decided that if reality is
ugly and tough, the solution is to live in fantasy. They refused to live in
a reality in which war is present and where people can not solve their
conflicts through building tourist hotels and internet web services.
Years into the ``peace process,`` Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready
to hand over to the PLO the Old City of Jerusalem, including control over
the Western Wall, in addition to slabs of pre-1967 Israeli territory in the
Negev -- all this while the Palestinians were routinely murdering Jewish
civilians, many of them children. The PLO`s response to Barak's
obsequiousness was to launch a new war against Israel in the form of the
The Oslo era was accompanied by a massive assault upon Israel`s pride,
morale and confidence by its own leaders and intellectual elites. Israeli
intellectuals lectured the country about its original sinfulness. Israel
was flooded with ``New Historians`` and ``Post-Zionists`` who zealously set
about the task of rewriting history texts and school curricula to promote
the Arab ``narrative`` -- i.e. the false Arab version of history. Large
swaths of Israeli universities became the occupied territories of tenured
traitors, working for the enemy, seeking the destruction of their own
Israeli politicians, ever attentive to the zeitgeist of trendy
secularism, announced themselves ready to strip the country of all of its
Jewish national emblems, from the star on the flag to the words of the
national anthem. And, after 1,300 years of discrimination against Jews by
Arabs, Israeli politicians were implementing ``reverse discrimination``
programs, under which Arabs received preferences and Jews suffered from
One after the other, Israeli politicians mouthed the post-modernist
gibberish of the anti-Israel choruses from overseas -- how Israelis need to
stop ruling over another "people", how they have to learn to understand the
"Other," how they must bring themselves to commemorate the ``tragedies`` the
Jews had imposed upon the Arabs and make restitution. The Israeli public
school system was conscripted to proliferate Arab ideology. Israeli
politicians and leftist professors seriously proposed that Israel create a
National ``Naqba`` Day, in which it atone for the very fact of its creation
and the ``catastrophe`` that this creation caused to Israeli Arabs.
The Israeli media bludgeoned the country on a daily basis, promoting
Palestinian propaganda in editorials, Op-Ed columns and even ostensibly
objective news stories. This Israeli self-flagellation produced a situation
whereby each and every atrocity committed by Arabs was greeted with calls
from the Israeli chattering classes for further concessions and appeasements
by Israel. Some, including tenured extremists at the universities, went so
far as to justify and celebrate Arab acts of terror as necessary to force
Israelis to come to their senses and make peace on terms favored by these
extremists. The Left promoted insubordination and mutiny by soldiers in the
military, and some endorsed boycotts of Israel by overseas anti-Semites.
The Israeli press adopted the practice of overseas Israel-Bashers in
referring to Palestinian nazi terrorists and suicide bombers as "activists
For 15 years the Israeli elites lived in a make-pretend world, in which
Jews were to blame for everything and Arabs were merely expressing
``frustration`` at being ``mistreated`` for so many years by Jews. The
psychological war by Israel`s elites against national pride, dignity and
self-respect -- indeed against national existence -- was accompanied by a
set of diplomatic policies expressing little more than self-loathing.
Israel was pursuing a policy that in effect let no act of Arab
violence go unrewarded. Ehud Barak surrendered to terror and withdrew
Israeli troops from Lebanon, and in so doing placed all of northern Israel,
the Haifa Bay and its refineries within rocket range of Hizbullah. Syria,
despite decades of aggression, sponsorship of terrorism and
government-sanctioned Holocaust denial, was begged by the same Barak to take
back not just the Golan Heights but also parts of pre-1967 Israel with
access to the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Miraculously, Syria turned down
the suicidal offer. The Israeli national policy of self-abasement was
accepted with equanimity by much of the Israeli public, which hoped against
hope that its leaders` promises of a light at the end of the Oslo tunnel
would come to pass. There was no light, other than from the flashes of
exploding buses full of children.
The 1990`s were the era in which it became evident that a great many
Israelis and most of the Israeli elite had lost their will to survive as a
nation. After centuries in which Jews maintained the most militant sorts of
pride and self-assurance even while being mistreated, despised and
humiliated, here were the Israelis, possessing one of the great armies of
the world, abandoning all pride and explicitly promoting self-humiliation
and self-destruction. The same Israeli military that had rescued the
Jewish hostages in Entebbe was suddenly incapable of rescuing a wounded IDF
soldier bleeding to death in Joseph`s Tomb in Nablus or protecting children
under fire in Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Here was an Israel unwilling to use force to prevent Palestinians from
firing rifles and mortars into civilian homes, instead begging the
Palestinian Authority to hold talks with those doing the shooting in order
to ``work out differences and reach understandings.``
An Israel no more than two generations removed from the Holocaust was
willing to hold ``peace talks`` with people who denied there ever was a
Holocaust and who insist that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make
Passover matzos. The same Jewish people that had fought against enormous
odds and won in 1948 was acquiescing in a ``peace process`` that involved
unilateral peace gestures from Israel in exchange for the Arabs continuing
to make war against the Jews.
Israel's leaders were given a very clear choice in the early 1990s.
They could have followed the lead of the Jewish beggar, hold back their
appetites for just a bit longer and defer their gratification just a bit,
suppressing the residual of Palestinian violence and denazifying the West
Bank and Gaza. And then they would have enjoyed a sumptuous Passover feast
like none before it. But they chose to behave like the foolish gentile
beggar in the story who had no idea of what was going on, who let his hunger
get the best of him, and who stormed out of the feast in irritation, just
before the delights of the feast were to begin in earnest. Because of
Israeli frustration at Palestinian guttersnipes tossing rocks at Israeli
troops, Israel swapped them for suicide bombers exterminating hundreds of
Jewish children and other civilians in Jerusalem and Haifa.
Is the foolish beggar still with us? That impatient one who does not
understand the rules of the seder? The one who is unwilling to control his
hunger pangs for just a little longer? Can we bring back the Jewish beggar
who correctly understands the rituals of the seder and understands Jewish
heritage, who knows how to wait patiently and achieve the delightful bloated
belly of satisfaction and prosperity?
I search, but do not find him anywhere. I do not know where he has