What Passover Means To Me
by RUTH KING
April 17, 2011
On April 18th, 2011 Jews all over the world, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, will set aside political partisanship and celebrate the first night of Passover, a holiday to commemorate the Exodus, when Moses led the Jewish people to freedom from slavery and hardship under the cruel Egyptian Pharaoh. We will eat the traditional foods….matzah, chicken soup, brisket, gefilte fish, macaroons, a mixture of apples, nuts, wine, and spices known as harozet, and drink our fill of holiday wines.
We will recount the plagues which made Pharaoh relent and release the Jews who baked their bread in flight, not pausing for the dough to rise, which is why we eat matzah. Although the Pharaoh gave chase with his mighty army the ancient narrative describes how the seas parted for the fleeing Jews and then drowned the pursuing soldiers.
It is a tale of triumph and a time for families and friends to rejoice together. It is also a time to remember those who struggled for freedom. At our Seder, we always recount the tale of Passover in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.
In 1942 the Nazis began their systematic plan to empty the European Jewish Ghettos by deporting millions of poor, hungry, frightened, wretched Jews to death in concentration camps. By March of 1943 only about 55, thousand were left in the Warsaw Ghetto, and they were slated for the cattle cars to transport them to Treblinka.
On the morning of Passover of April 19th 1943, the uprising began when German troops entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty Jews, armed with a handful of pistols and rifles and Molotov rifles, surprised and held off the heavily armed Nazis.
That day at dawn German platoons and motorized vehicles including tanks entered the Ghetto ready to attack. Their march into eerily quiet streets was interrupted by explosions of homemade hand grenades and shots. Their retreat was halted at every pass, several tanks were blown up by incendiary bottles, and they sustained many casualties and by that afternoon they were in full retreat.
For days and weeks they returned. Crude explosives and partisan fighting kept them at bay and they continually called for reinforcements, but the bitterly determined Jewish partisans forced them to abandon ordinary fighting and torch the entire ghetto and root out the resistance centers amid chocking smoke and chaos.
By May 16th it was over. Approximately 300 Germans and 7,000 Jews were killed in the uprising and the Ghetto was reduced to rubble.
By the time World War II ended, one out of every three Jews in the world had been killed. The last words on many lips were “Sh’ma Yisroel” translated as “Hear oh Israel” words from the Torah.
Five years later Israel and world Jewry heard. In 1948, the ancient land of the Jews in Palestine was reborn. Jews who had lived there from time immemorial welcomed and rescued the wretched survivors from Europe and hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Arab countries who left property and all their material possessions to flee their Pharaohs.
World Jewry and its fraternal and charitable organizations aided in the most epic tale of rescue since the time of Moses. In spite of the attack by all Arab nations, Israel triumphed and again, the seas parted for the steel hulls of vessels that brought Jews home, where they restored an ancient language, and created a stunning and vibrant democracy with a state-of-the art military, advanced social, scientific and cultural institutions, and a determined citizen army to defend them.
Passover is the holiday that celebrates the Exodus from ancient Egypt, but also commemorates the heroism of those who resisted in the darkest days of modern history, and the heroism of all Zionists who fought and died to reclaim and rebuild the ancient Jewish homeland.
Passover also celebrates the Ten Commandments. According to Jewish tradition, Exodus 20:2-17 constitutes God's first recitation and inscription of the Ten Commandments on two tablets, which Moses presented to the Children of Israel who had left Egypt, prior to their entry to the land of Canaan.
The Decalogue - a list of imperatives for a decent life that prohibit murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, worshiping of false idols, and coveting of one's neighbor's goods - is recognized as the moral foundation of Judaism and Christianity.
On Sunday, April 24, 2011 the weekly festival of Passover coincides with Easter Sunday. May we all, Christians and Jews, share blessings and comfort and peace and reflection on our respective holidays.