Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Zionist Seder

By Gil Troy,, April 5, 2008

This year’s seder should launch the big buildup to Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration. Just as in my youth we had a “matzah of hope” to carve out time from the historic ritual to remember the contemporary challenges of Soviet Jewry, we need to use this most popular Jewish ritual to delight in the miracle of Israel’s surviving – and thriving.

The power of the seder - which remains one of the most popular of Jewish ceremonies in Israel and abroad - comes from its ritualization of memory, and its dramatization of history. It is a most primal, most sensual, most literal, of services. The seder plate - with its representations of the mortar used in building, the charoset, and of the tears shed by the slaves, the salt water - helps us visualize the trauma of slavery. The joy of Dayenu – and the building toward the festive meal – helps us feel the redemption of freedom.

There are many entry points within the Seder ritual for discussion and commemoration of Israel. We could start by setting one empty seat at the table, to remember the three kidnapped Israeli soldiers – and the other soldiers and victims of terror who cannot join this festive night because they were murdered by modern-day enemies. We could continue by only serving Israeli wine, and celebrating the emergence of a sophisticated wine culture that both fills traditional kashrut requirements and is beginning to make a splash on the international wine scene. We could give our children an Israel related toy – or simply make a charitable donation to Israel in their names – in exchange for the Afikomen. We could add contemporary readings and modern Israeli songs at the point of Dayenu – the song detailing the many miracles of redemption. And we could culminate with a discussion over dinner about just how do we celebrate the modern miracle of Israel, wherever we might stand on the political spectrum, because Zionism is an idea that should transcend the left-right gravitational physics of everyday politics.

Let us start this countdown toward Israel's birthday with an ambitious goal. Every Jew who attends a seder this month should end up celebrating Israel in some way next month. If we really could fulfill that goal, we would trigger such a torrent of ideas and waves of participation that we would accelerate the needed renewal of the bond linking Diaspora Jews with Israel, and the bond linking Israeli Jews with their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.

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