Tuesday, April 14, 2009
A Passover Tale of Two Beggars
A Tale of Two Beggars
By: Steven Plaut
Date: Tuesday, April 14 2009
Once upon a time, somewhere in the steppes of Eastern Europe, in the Pale
that contained many a Jewish village, there roamed two beggars. One of the
hobos was a Jew, the other a gentile.
The two transients were friends and far too lazy to hold any job or do any
real 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, as the two were looking for someone from whom they could shnorr
some food, they came upon a shtetl whose residents were all buzzing about,
hurrying, scouring pots and pans, cleaning their homes and cooking.
The Jewish beggar suddenly realized it was but a few hours before Passover
was to begin.
"We have extraordinary good luck today," he said to his 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
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. 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
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 of the table he saw nothing but some pathetic hard-boiled
eggs, a few leaves, and a single small shank bone of meat.
"This is for the entire assembly?" he thought. Then, instead of pouncing on
the food, his host poured everyone a single tiny cup of wine.
Things just got worse. The hosts finished drinking their wine and offered
everyone at the table a few small leaves to nibble. Not even enough to
satisfy a rabbit! And they even insisted 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 dessert, they handed him instead a piece
of bread, but one unlike 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?" the beggar said to himself. "This
is the mountain of food these Jews eat to celebrate their happiest holiday?"
And 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, saying he was
needed elsewhere with great urgency, and left his hosts with an apology. In
a rage, he wandered the streets of the village, looking for his Jewish
friend and intending to thrash him and scream at him for his empty promise
of a full stomach and a glorious meal.
Four hours later, he finally found his Jewish friend. The Jewish beggar was
wandering through the alleys, shirt buttons popping, belly overfull, picking
at his teeth and belching his 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.
"Some feast you promised me!" grumbled the non-Jewish beggar. 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 some horrid bitter glob.
"At that point I decided enough is enough," he explained, "and I got up and
The Jewish beggar could not control his laughter. "You do not understand,"
he said. "Those were simply the earliest preliminaries of the feast. You
snatched hunger from out of the horn of plenty! 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. But, you see, you abandoned hope only a few
moments too soon. Because you were impatient, you spoiled everything."
* * *
The story of the two beggars is neither a fairy tale nor 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 beggar who did not understand where he was or what was going on,
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 put down, suppressed by
force of Israeli arms. The dimensions of Palestinian violence were dropping
each month. It would likely have ended altogether had Israel used even more
vigorous force against it.
In fact, Israelis who felt Israel should use greater force to end the
violence outnumbered by perhaps four to one those saying less force should
be used. It was a landslide consensus. Israelis were in no mood to appease
In 1990, Palestinian terrorists were so desperate for weapons that they were
reduced to concocting zip guns out of household materials and Molotov
cocktails far more likely to scorch the throwers than any targets.
The best the terrorists could do in most cases was toss rocks at Israeli
troops in the Gaza Strip or in parts of the West Bank, a phenomenon
unpleasant but not life-threatening, and one that certainly posed no
existential threat to the survival of the state. Many sections 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," as they
could 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. The most the Palestinians could hope for
was a limited autonomy, with no role whatsoever for the PLO.
The number of Israelis who took seriously the notion that the Palestinians
deserved their own state was relatively small. 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 - but only on
the condition that they would eschew further violence. This was also, in
essence, the formula backed by the United States.
The Israeli economy in the early 1990s was booming, riding the crest of the
high-tech revolution. The country was flooded with immigrants from the
nations that had comprised the Soviet empire. The standard of living in
Israel had reached the levels of the middle tier of Western European
While many Israeli Arabs voted for anti-Zionist parties to show their
solidarity with Israel's enemies, many others did not and voted for Zionist
parties while maintaining cordial relations with Jews.
Into this relative 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 - that armies are obsolete, as is patriotism; that
appeasement of fascist terrorists is the surest path to true peace; that
Israeli self-abasement is the highest form of Jewish nationalism; that
cowardice is the highest form of valor; that the best way to end war is to
pretend it doesn't exist.
It sought to reduce tensions with the Palestinian Arabs, who had just been
defeated in their intifada, by importing the PLO leadership from Tunis and
Damascus into the "occupied territories" and then allowing it to build up an
army in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, bankrolled and armed by
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.
Peres and Rabin became convinced that the most promising path to a full and
permanent peace with all of Israel's neighbors lay in Israeli capitulation
to Arab demands and appeasement of the planet's worst Islamofascist
They took to lecturing the country on how the utopian state of affairs they
envisioned had not yet come about because Israelis were not strongly enough
desirous of it.
The Oslo era was defined by a massive assault on Israeli pride, morale and
confidence by its own leaders and intellectual elites. Israeli academics
wrote books and articles castigating the country for its shortcomings, both
real and imagined.
"New historians" and "post-Zionists" zealously set about the task of
rewriting history texts and school curricula to debunk what they regarded as
pernicious Israeli propaganda, promoting instead the Arab "narrative,"
beginning with the Original Sin of Israel's founding.
The Israeli media, heavily leftist on nearly every level, bludgeoned the
country on a daily basis, promoting the Palestinian position in editorials,
op-ed columns and even ostensibly objective news stories.
This self-flagellation produced a situation in which 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 the extremists.
The Left promoted insubordination and mutiny by Israeli soldiers, with not a
few leftists endorsing boycotts of Israel by overseas anti-Semites. The
Israeli press adopted the practice of overseas Israel-bashers in referring
to Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers as "activists" and
In return for its endless goodwill gestures and masochistic eagerness to
placate its enemies and world opinion, Israel got 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
* * *
For 16 years now, Israel's elites have been living in a make-believe world
in which Jews are to blame for nearly everything and Arabs are merely
expressing "frustration" at being "mistreated" for so many years by Jews.
And the psychological war mounted by Israel's elites against national pride,
dignity and self-respect - indeed against national existence - has been
accompanied by a set of diplomatic policies expressing little more than
self-loathing - policies that in effect allow no act of Arab violence to go
The Oslo and post-Oslo eras will be known in history as the period when it
became evident that a great many Israelis - and nearly all the Israeli elite
- had lost the will to survive as a nation.
After centuries during which Jews maintained the most militant
self-assurance even while being mistreated, despised and humiliated, here
were the Israelis - possessing one of the great armies of the world and a
record of achievement on a variety of fronts that put far older, larger and
wealthier countries to shame - abandoning all pride and promoting
self-humiliation and self-destruction.
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
The nation that had fought against enormous odds and won spectacular
battlefield victories was acquiescing in a "peace process" that involved
unilateral gestures from Israel in exchange for Arabs continuing to make war
against the Jews.
Israel's leaders chose to behave like the foolish 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 house in irritation, just before the delights of
the feast were to begin in earnest.
Because of frustration that Palestinian guttersnipes were tossing rocks at
Israeli troops, Israel swapped the stone-throwers for suicide bombers
exterminating hundreds of Jewish children and other civilians in Jerusalem
And while the events of the past decade and a half have taken the shine off
the visions offered by Rabin and Peres and all the others who brought us the
Oslo disaster, make no mistake: the foolish beggar is still with us.
But where is the Jewish beggar - the one who understood the rituals of the
Seder and knew his heritage, the one who had the wisdom to wait patiently
and achieve the delightfully bloated belly of satisfaction and prosperity?
I search, but cannot find him anywhere. Can you tell me where he's gone?