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Runaway ideology

What a wonderful chag we have had.  It was heartwarming to walk through the streets of Yokine and Dianella on Saturday and Sunday night to see so many people strolling home from their Sedarim.  It was wonderful to hear kids sing Mah Nishtana, and to know that thousands of people in Perth participated in the timeless Jewish tradition of recounting the story of the Exodus and contemplating the virtues of freedom itself.

One of the highlights of the three day Yom Tov was being able to read such a large and diverse range of divrei Torah from various organisations that had been distributed in Shule. From AUJS, Bnei Akiva, Chabad, Habonim, and a range of regular parsha sources, there were many efforts made to share the meaning of Pesach in a contemporary format.

There was one particular daf that caught my attention. That is the one from Habonim Dror, who for the past few weeks have been preparing a publication for Shule. Prior to passing my comment on the Pesach edition, I would like to note as a disclaimer that I spent a number of years as a member of Habonim, and owe much of my Jewish education to the movement. I am a supporter of Zionism in many forms, and I have nothing against Habo. It’s a pretty poor take on a pretty poor cliche, but, some of my best friends are Habonimniks.

So, what was so disturbing about the Habo daf was that it defined the story of Pesach as a tale of liberation from oppression. No problems so far. But it then went onto link the Jewish experience of liberation from Egypt to genocide in Dafur, and to advocate for a campaign against China as a major benefactor of Sudan.

Whilst this may be a noble social objective, I strongly question the need to take the very essence of Pesach, a celebration of the birth of Jewish nationhood, and an intrinsically Jewish festival, and reinterpret this to the cause celebre of another people. At best it represents an over-zealous extension of the theme of Pesach, but at worst it displays an insecurity by immediately removing the Jewish essence of this unique and very insular cultural experience of the Jewish calendar.

There is a delightfuly cynical and very poignant item that contains a similar sentiment, published in the Jewish World Review.  I encourage you to read the item by Jonathan Mark, entitled “Spare me the Politics, if you would like to take in a stronger arguement as to why Pesach is the wrong time to start injecting a global flavour into our seder night tutorial of Jewish values.

Sorry Habo, but on this occasion you have lost the plot. Pesach is about Jewish liberation, and the ability to construct a nation built on the virtues of G-dly love and protection. It is about understanding the importance of freedom, and how to apply freedom both individually and collectively to maximise our Jewish experience. It is about remembering why exile was brought about, and what we can do to hasten redemption. But it is not about fighting for economic sanctions against China, or using the Olympics as a platform for protest, or about the struggle against warfare in Dafur.

Before we run out and solve the modern world’s political problems, lets refocus Pesach on its Jewish values, and use the words of liberation from the Haggadah to contain our ego’s, and elevate our own personal yetziat mitzraim.

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