Hamas terrorism and US antisemitism cast shadow over Passover for American Jews

Posted on April 22, 2024 In Op-ed

By Nathan J. Diament

Jews will gather Monday for the Passover Seder as we have for centuries. Children are taught to ask four questions with the opening, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” But this year, there is a fifth question American Jewish families will ask at their Seder table: “What is our place today in America?”

This year, Jews will celebrate Passover in the shadow of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel − the bloodiest day for Jews since the Holocaust − and amid the largest surge in antisemitism ever in the United States.

As we celebrate our freedom from Egypt, we will think about the Jews who are hostages in Gaza, taken captive solely because they are Jews. We will cry as we retell the biblical-era atrocities against our ancestors that rhyme with the brutality of our present-day foes.

For American Jews, our current anxiety is not only out of concern for our Israeli brothers and sisters. It also is because we are shocked by those who have taken to the streets to praise Hamas and denounce Jews.

Unprecedented “protests” have been mounted outside synagogues, and Jewish-owned businesses have been vandalized. And of course, there is the over-the-top animus on university campuses, where Jewish students and faculty are harassed and threatened without consequence to the perpetrators.

New questions will be asked at this year’s Passover Seder

In this context, in this moment, every American Jewish family will ask at their Seder table: “Is the golden age of American Jewry over?” A teenager will turn to a grandparent and ask: “Are we watching a replay of 1930s Germany here?”

These questions will be asked by Orthodox Jews, who are acutely tuned to the patterns of Jewish history, which tells of “golden ages” that have come and gone for centuries.

And these questions will be asked by liberal Jews, who might have reservations about how Israel has prosecuted its war against Hamas but have even greater reservations about their erstwhile friends and colleagues siding with Hamas.

These Jews have fought on the front lines of many progressive causes − for racial, economic, women’s, LGBTQ+ and other rights. Now, they find themselves abandoned by alleged allies when it was time to stand against Jews being victims of rape and murder.

We thought our son was alive.Release Hamas hostages and spare others our pain.

While the Haggadah provides answers to the four traditional Passover questions, it leaves this question of this moment unanswered. That answer will depend on the American people and how we, collectively, right our course and respond to this decisive moment in American Jewish history.

But the Passover story makes one thing clear: In the age-old fight between good and evil, good will triumph.

There’s a reason the Passover Seder is the most observed Jewish ritual across the full spectrum of Jews. It holds a message of promise that the Jewish people will endure in the face of unimaginable evil. Great empires − Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British − have come and gone, but we Jews remain.

Non-Jews gravitate toward the Passover story for the same reason. Indeed, Exodus makes a frequent cameo in America’s founding story. In 1776, Ben Franklin proposed a national seal with the image of “Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea” with the motto “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

From the abolitionist era to the Civil Rights Movement, the idea of people being delivered from servitude to freedom captured the American imagination.

Americans can stand with Jews against evil and tyranny

Today, Americans have an opportunity to side with good and freedom over evil and tyranny. A society that turns the other cheek in the face of those who persecute Jews, because they are Jews, will ultimately lose their freedoms for all.

From university administrators to the White House to the average man on the street, this is a decisive moment for all of us. Our choice as a country will not only determine what happens to the Jewish people, but what happens to the American people as well.