Pesach is my favorite Jewish holiday. The traditions are so rich and the Seder is the ultimate joyous, jubilant Jewish celebration: the symbols of the Seder plate, the smells and tastes of real Jewish food (I will put Margie’s golden chicken soup up against any in the world), the struggle with matzoh for eight days, the four cups, the laughter, the singing, Elijah. Those are all so memorable.
But it is the message that permeates the holiday that is so important. While the book of Exodus holds perhaps more of the basic concepts, precepts, commandments and narratives of the Torah than any other book, the Haggadah‘s lessons seem much narrower.
There are many different interpretations of the meaning of the story from the manifestation of The Lord acting directly in the world, to the molding of the Jewish people into a nation, to the miracles of the Passover and the parting of the Sea of Reeds itself. Yet to me the most straightforward and overriding message is simple:
- REMEMBER. You were slaves in Egypt
- RELIVE. How it felt to be enslaved. To be oppressed
- REPUDIATE. So that, You, personally, and, Jews as a people, will never become oppressors yourselves
Every Jewish holiday harks back to a connection with bedrock stories from the Jewish community’s past like the recitation of the Akedah and story of Jonah on the High Holidays, the Megillah on Purim, Akadmut and Ruth on Shavuot,, or the rededication of the Temple at Hanukkah. But the Seder and the Haggadah ask something of us that is wholly unique and of an entirely different nature than any other Jewish holiday. It specifically tells us that we must place ourselves inside the story – we must be in Egypt to feel the pain and oppression – and the redemption. This is one of the main lessons of the telling of the story of the Four Sons, which acts as an answer to Mah Nishtanah – Why is this night different from all other nights?
So why is it so important to more than sympathize, more than empathize, but to actually experience being slaves in Egypt? The answer seems straightforward. Each of us needs to understand what it is like to be oppressed so that we will never become oppressors ourselves. We must feel the weariness of the excruciating labor, the pain of the task masters’ whips, and shed the tears of a people without rights or freedom. Having lived through it ourselves, it should be unthinkable for Jews to oppress others. And lest we forget, we are commanded to relive our slavery each and every Pesah. We must understand the pain of the oppressed and the evil of the oppressor – so that we never allow the roles to be reversed.
One of the traditional prayers at the end of the Seder is “next year in Jerusalem”. The problem is that now when I look to Jerusalem, I see Israel occupying Arab neighborhoods. Pushing people out of homes that have been in their families for decades or longer. And beyond that, I see checkpoints, and identity cards, and political prisons. Most of all, I see one people subjugating another. This is not fantasy. This is reality for anyone who cares to take a look. But if an American Jew talks about it, he is told, “You have no right to criticize Israeli policy because you don’t live there. You don’t have to serve in the IDF. You don’t have to dive into bomb shelters when the sirens sound. You don’t have to fear that your children will be killed riding in a school bus.” That is so very true. And I am so sorry that life is indeed that dangerous for those living in Eretz Yisrael. But I am also sorry to say that I believe the Haggadah not only gives me the right, but also the obligation as a Jew, to speak out when I see fellow Jews oppressing another people. As Peter Beinart said when he spoke at Northwestern, “The morality of a people must not be measured when they are powerless. The question is how they act when they have the power.”
I received a wonderful Nowruz (New Year’s) greeting from my good friend, Narimon Safavi, yesterday. I have learned so much from Nari about Iranian history, politics, and culture that I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. I think the best way to demonstrate this to you is by sharing his lovely thoughts and informative excerpts with you (I don’t think he will mind):
Doostan, Beloved Ones,
One of the gifts of having been born into an Iranian family is the nearly religious commemorations of the change in seasons and the cycles of nature , serving as a constant reminder of one’s position in the cosmic order of things.
In the past three millennia many nations have been created and then vanished. Yet several historians consider the survival of the Iranians ( or the Persians as the Greeks called them ) to have been due to the dogged obsession with the precise calculations of the sacred moments of balance in nature ; along with the poetically subversive nature of their language ( in other word, Calender / Math and Poetry ) .
The Spring ( Vernal ) Equinox ( March 20-21 ) represents one of those sacred moments, as well as being symbolic of renewal. It is celebrated for nearly three weeks , starting with a fireworks ceremony on the Tuesday night before the arrival of the equinox and culminates with a day of picnics and outdoor activities on the 13th day of the new year. In between one celebrates the arrival of the new year with the family and starting on the second day, a series of home visits with the elders begins in a proper chronological order. One could consider all of this as the ancient Persian version of the pre-party, the party and then the after-party for the new year’s eve, stretched out into a three week process without leaving the senior citizens out of the action. Meanwhile, not much work gets done in countries that celebrate this holiday, much to the bewilderment of the other societies of our globalized world.
Early Tuesday morning ( 12:14 AM CDT ) on March 20 , the earth will be in the exact position where both hemispheres will receive equal daylight and darkness. Hundreds of millions of people who reside in areas with historic connections to the old Persian Empire, from western borders of China , to Central and South Asia as well as the pockets in the Caucuses and the Balkans and North Africa ( not to speak of Iran ), will simultaneously celebrate that very moment. As you step out of your home that day, if you even briefly contemplate the glory of the arrival of the new season, you will have proved that being Iranian is not about bloodlines, but a state of mind.
Pasted below is an article that explains the decorative and symbolic components of the festivities.
Happy Nowruz ( No-Rooz ? ),
No-Rooz, The Iranian New Year at Present Times
No-Rooz, in word, means “New Day”. It is the new day that starts the year, traditionally the exact astronomical beginning of the Spring. Iranians take that as the beginning of the year. This exact second is called “Saal Tahvil”. No-Rooz with its’ uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian (This was the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in 7th century A.D.).
Iranians consider No-Rooz as their biggest celebration of the year, before the new year, they start cleaning their houses (Khaane Tekaani), and they buy new clothes. But a major part of New Year rituals is setting the “Haft Seen” with seven specific items. In ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter “S”; this was not the order in ancient times. These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh (sumak, an Iranian spice). Zoroastrians today do not have the seven “S”s but they have the ritual of growing seven seeds as a reminder that this is the seventh feast of creation, while their sprouting into new growth symbolized resurrection and eternal life to come.
Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. A few live gold fish (the most easily obtainable animal) are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them. Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire. Most of the people used to place Qoran on their Sofreh (spread) in order to bless the New Year. But some people found another alternative to Qoran and replaced it by the Divan-e Hafez (poetry book of Hefez), and during “Saal Tahvil” reading some verses from it was popular. Nowadays, a great number of Iranians are placing Shahnameh (the Epic of Kings) of Ferdowsi on their spread as an Iranian national book. They believe that Shahnameh has more Iranian identity values and spirits, and is much suitable for this ancient celebration.
After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year. Then they give presents to each other (traditionally cash, coins or gold coins), usually older ones to the younger ones. The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets, special meals and “Aajil” (a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweet stuff) or fruits are consumed. Traditionally on the night before the New Year, most Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, a special dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and served with smoked and freshly fried fish. Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs with eggs fried or baked, is also served. The next day rice and noodles (Reshteh Polo) is served. Regional variations exist and very colorful feasts are prepared.
The 13th day of the new year is called “Sizdah Bedar” and spent mostly outdoors. People will leave their homes to go to the parks or local plains for a festive picnic. It is a must to spend Sizdah Bedar in nature. This is called Sizdah Bedar and is the most popular day of the holidays among children because they get to play a lot! Also in this day, people throw the Sabze away, they believe Sabze should not stay in the house after “Sizdah Bedar”. Iranians regard 13th day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid misfortunes. It is also believed that unwed girls can wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot between green shoots, symbolizing a marital bond.
Another tradition of the new year celebrations is “Chahar-Shanbeh Soori“. It takes place before Saal Tahvil, at the last Wednesday of the old year, well actually Tuesday night! People set up bon fire, young and old leap over the fires with songs and gestures of merriment like:
(Sorkhi-e to az man) Give me your beautiful red color
(Zardi-e man az to) And take back my sickly pallor!
It means: I will give you my yellow color (sign of sickness), and you give me your fiery red color (sign of healthiness). This is a purification rite and ‘suri’ itself means red and fiery.
No-Rooz Mobarak (Happy No-Rooz, Happy New Year);
Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year to you);
No-Rooz Pirooz (Wishing you a Prosperous New Year);
Sad Saal be in Saal-ha (Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years).
After all No-Rooz is a fun time for all of the Iranians, old and young.
A Sane View of The Diplomacy vs. War Options with Iran: Watch Trita Parsi on Last Night’s Daily Show
Perhaps, one of the wisest, most common sense observations that I have heard to date regarding the current situation with Iran can be heard in the following clip from the extended interview of my good friend, Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), last night on Jon Stewart’s show. Here is the quote:
You don’t get democracy to be born out of a war, I think that we should have learned that by now…and where there is a war, it enables governments to further do away with civil liberties of their populations…The pro-democracy movement [in Iran] is yelling and screaming “Don’t go to war”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the media is picking that up.
Here is Part 2 of the interview (which the quote comes from)
In Part 1 of the interview, which was the actual footage shown on air, Trita presents some insightful counter-arguments to the current push for military action against Iran. Trita’s new book, The Single Roll of the Dice, documents the history of U.S. diplomacy with Iran from 2003 to present and how internal domestic interests and unlucky timing prevented any progress.
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive – Trita Parsi Extended Interview – Pt. 1|
- Parsi: Assassination to scuttle talks (globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com)
One Important Piece of Action You Can Take If You Believe In Putting The Brakes On The War Train To Iran
This weekend, beginning Sunday, we are about to witness one of the most dramatic shows of Jewish political force in the history of the United States. This is not some anti-Zionist rhetoric – it is simply a fact. AIPAC is going to have over 10,000 people in the DC Convention Center (myself included) at its Policy Conference [for live 'fair and balanced' tweets, check www.twitter/beyondzs] – and will have 30-50% of those attending going to lobby on Capitol Hill. Normally, I might say mazel tov – tanks G-t so many care about Israel. But right now, AIPAC is stridently promoting political moves here in the US to lay the groundwork for Israel (alone, or with US overt assistance) to take military action against Iran very shortly. I believe that they do this with good intention, but with flawed reasoning and almost negligent disregard for the outcomes. How can they do this without facing strong, forceful pushback?
- War is easy and its drums are seductive.
- F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty and doubt) cry out to the most base human emotions.
- The politics of our time rewards simplicity and machismo.
So, what is to be done? Here’s the sales pitch:
J Street is having its own Conference three weeks later – from March 24 – March 27. J Street’s position is nuanced and urges caution. Here is an excerpt:
“…Finally, like many American and Israeli security experts such as former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy, we believe that a military strike against Iran would be ill-advised. While unlikely to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear program, a military strike would have dire consequences and runs the risk of igniting a broader regional war. A preemptive attack could also strengthen the current regime in Iran and provide an excuse for it to redouble its nuclear efforts. We therefore oppose legislation authorizing, encouraging, or in other ways laying the groundwork for the use of military force against Iran.”
Further details can be found here: http://jstreet.org/policy/issues/iran/.
If you agree with this postion, you can take concrete action by attending the J Street Conference. Every single person who attends sends a critical counter message to Members of Congress and the President. By doing so, you will be standing up for intelligent debate here at home, for allowing the current round of sanctions time to work, and arguing for a new diplomatic “surge”.
Trust me, Congressmen and women can count – and they will. There will be a simple calculus taking place politically throughout Washington – they will stack up what they see as the constituency pushing for the “military option” versus the constituency that opposes immediate military action in favor of a calmer, more reasoned and examined approach. Any of you reading this who are part of the latter group – need to be in D.C. at the J Street Conference. Period.
I know that it is difficult for people to get away. I know that it is expensive in terms of both time and money (although there is financial assistance available). I know that we all have non-stop schedules. But (and I know that this may sound narcissistic and overly dramatic) I personally feel that we are at a time not unlike Dr. King’s March on Washington, not unlike Breaking Down the Berlin Wall, not unlike Tiananmen Square. That is, there are specific moments in time that actually do affect the course of history. Their outcomes revise the course of world history. They determine the trajectory of the future.
Is it hyperbole to put this moment in that context? Perhaps.
But consider the following:
We are talking about the prospect of America entering its Third War in a little over 10 years with potentially massive consequences in terms of death, destruction and economic upheaval for the U.S., Israel, Iran and the rest of the world. There can be very little doubt that military action against Iran is going to set a new trajectory for the Middle East – and quite possibly the entire world.
So, is that worth taking two-three days of our time? I do not ask this rhetorically nor do I question anyone’s answer to that question.
All that I am saying is that from my personal perspective, we are at a watershed moment for our country, for Israel, and for the world as a whole. We have a chance to do something to influence what direction our government takes. I urge you to join me at the J Street Conference in D.C. March 24-26 and to meet with your Member of Congress face-to-face on Tuesday, March 27. Tell her/him directly how you feel.
For anyone who reads this who would like more information on the Conference, you can find it here http://conference.jstreet.org/
For anyone who reads this who would like to consider going and might want more specific details – please contact me at beyondzerosum.gmail.com and let’s discuss.
For anyone who reads this and is so convinced that they want to sign up right away, please go here http://www.wynjade.com/jstreet12/
Follow BeyondZeroSum at www.twitter/beyondzs
For a thoughtful alternative approach to dealing with Iran, see Foreign Policy blog post: Using religion to restrain Iran’s nuclear program
- Obama Says Military Option on Iran Not a ‘Bluff’ – New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Obama to Israel: ‘I don’t bluff’ (thehill.com)
One can’t open a newspaper (if anyone still does that anymore) without seeing a lot of F.U.D. about Iran. What is F.U.D? Fear, uncertainty and doubt. “Existential threat”, “zone of immunity”, and “unacceptable” are terms that can be read in almost every article. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in these descriptions. On the other hand, there seems to be only a single prescription at this point in time. That, of course, is John McCain’s old tune: “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran” (Granted the Rx is crafted a bit more elegantly than that).
But are there options?
Haven’t we tried diplomacy and it didn’t work?
You might find an unexpected answer in Trita Parsi’s new book, A Single Roll of the Dice. Trita is one of the foremost experts on the relationship between Israel and Iran (his first book, A Treacherous Alliance has been called one of the “few detailed studies examining Israeli and Iranian attitudes and postures towards each other outside the context of U.S.-Iranian relations” by none other than the Rand Corporation in a recent comprehensive white paper: Israel and Iran – A Dangerous Rivalry) Trita reviews the month-by-month history of events involving the Iran nuclear program and vigorously argues that for many reasons, including missteps by all parties concerned, diplomacy was constantly being shifted off course. He especially highlights the little know fact that a diplomatic deal was ACTUALLY MADE in MAY, 2010 with Iran by the Turks and Brazilians – but was essentially rejected because the sanctions’ “train” had already moved out of the station.
Haven’t we tried Sanctions and they haven’t worked?
First, sanctions do appear to be having an effect. The value of the Iranian currency has dropped almost 50%. Other economic shifts are being felt. Second, the latest round of sanctions has only been in place since approximately January 1st – hardly enough time to assess their impact. Third, even harsher sanctions are scheduled to kick in over the next several months.
There isn’t time in this post to discuss possible consequences of the third option: military action, but suffice it to say that we need to be very upfront and sanguine about potential consequences of either a unilateral Israeli attack or a combined operation with the U.S. There is no doubt that Iran represents a potentially very serious threat to the entire world – but so did Saddam Hussein. To ignore the lessons of that strategic debacle is simply gross negligence
- Despite war drums, experts insist Iran N-deal possible (nation.com.pk)
- Director of National Intelligence Clapper Has Doubts About Iranian Bomb, But Sen. Graham Is “Very Convinced” (disquietreservations.blogspot.com)
Ok. It’s been many moons since you’ve seen a post from me.
It’s been partly a matter of time, partly a matter of not having anything brilliant to say, and partly (maybe mostly) because a lot of things to be said regarding the Middle East were so depressing. Although I can’t say things are less depressing now – actually just the opposite – but it is time again to try to make a real push to say some things worth saying and to expand my readership. Coming up on the agenda: the AIPAC Policy Conference – this Sunday and Monday. I will be tweeting (www.twitter.com/beyondzs) live from the floor and hopefully wrapping up with a post each night. Check it out for a different perspective.
To see a very cool giant awake, sip a Johnnie Walker and watch this video. I think you’ll enjoy it.
So, please review my next few posts and if you find them worthwhile, please circulate them to any friends that might be interested. I would appreciate that.