Some of my happiest times have been at the Passover table. Even for a relatively non-observant Jew like me, participation in a Seder has enhanced my sense of connection with my community, especially those shared with close friends who I have had the privilege to know since I was a child several decades ago.
The Passover story, which commemorates the departure of the Jews from their enslavement in Egypt, reminds us of the value of self-determination and freedom from oppression.
But when Passover begins in less than two weeks I will not be celebrating, because the disjuncture between what this festival is about and the reality of what is happening in modern Israel cannot be reconciled.
More than anything else, I cannot bring myself to be part of an even symbolic rendition of the line that punctuates every Seder – ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’.
I cannot utter these words while long-term Arab residents such as Nasser Jaber are thrown out of their homes in East Jerusalem. The house was invaded by settlers last year while Jaber spent four nights away while his house was being renovated.
I cannot utter these words when the Israeli government signals further turmoil to Arab residents by announcing plans to build another 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem – a provocation that just happened to coincide with the visit of the US Vice-President, who was attempting to reinvigorate the peace process.
I cannot say ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ when Israel refuses to discuss the serious suspicions that Mossad stole the identity of Diaspora Jews during the recent assassination of a Hamas militant in Dubai. (And I’m not laughing at the fact that an Israeli supermarket chain has seen fit to satirise the whole episode by spoofing the surveillance footage in a recent advertising campaign that culminates with the line ‘We offer killer prices’.)
I don’t expect that my personal boycott of Passover will achieve anything at all. But I believe that those Jews – and I don’t think I’m alone here – who feel alienated by the behaviour of the Israeli government and the excesses of the settler movement should feel free to make a gesture of silence this Passover instead of following the rituals of the festival.
I look forward to saying ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ at a time when Israel’s government acknowledges the values that Passover is meant to represent.