Friday, April 11, 2008
A Passover Story
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 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
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
The gentile beggar's mouth was already watering with the thought of the
wonderful delicacies he was about to devour. His belly grumbled 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 wondered. 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 much preferred a large bottle of vodka or a barrel of gin or
even some German lager.
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 the 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 stroll 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, 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, meats, 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 your 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 strongest yearnings.
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 the rioters. 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 Syria 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. 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 regard seriously 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 (in Hebrew, "wait for me at the corner"). 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 came 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 Death.
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 mass media to attack
the Israeli soul and morale, hectoring Israelis about their "insensitivity" to
the Palestinian "Other".
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
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-debasement 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 problems cannot be resolved 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 "Al-Aqsa intifada".
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 country.
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 quotas.
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 and militants".
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 was based on letting 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. Barak's
cowardice in 2000 produced 4000 rockets landing in northern Israel in 2006.
The Israeli national policy of self-debasement 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
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
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 gone.