THE SPINE APRIL 6, 2010
I actually had no intention of writing again about President Obama and his Passover theology. I'd done it once, on the night before the night of the first seder and that, I said to myself, was enough. In any case, my quarrel with him is really about how he treats the idea of the Jewish people today (but not only the idea) and how his politics imperil Jews everywhere, in Israel, primarily, but certainly not only in Israel.
So what changed my mind? Well, I was catching up with Jonathan Chait's blog, a TNR feature that I greatly admire. Somehow, I had missed a posting of his called "How Obama Ruined Passover." Of course, I knew instantly that Obama had ruined nothing for Chait. Obama can't ruin anything for Chait.
But Jennifer Rubin can ruin anything and everything for Jonathan. I don't know Jennifer, and I don't whether Jon does either. Still, I've said here and there how much I respect her writing, mostly in Contentions. It's clear that Chait doesn't. God bless him ... and her.
In "Passover Mush," she writes that the president's holiday message "is typical Obama--off-key, hyper-political and condescending." And only of strained relevance.
The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the tie that bind us all.
Discrimination? What are you talking about. Please forgive me. But the Passover season is not really a version of National Brotherhood Week, circa 1954.
Now, Jonathan takes Rubin's criticism of the president's universalizing (or, better yet, neutralizing) of the central historical festival of the entire Jewish year as a rejection of transcendent meaning altogether. It is not. But any one who really knows the Mosaic faith should grasp that Jews worry about their own righteousness before they begin to worry about the righteousness of others. We are not saints. And neither are you.
The Jews also did not and do not search for conversos.
So our history is ours. Passover is zman cheruteynu, the season of our freedom. And our freedom, even in America, depends on our freedom in Zion which is also Jerusalem. Maybe this was a gift from God. Maybe it was not. In any case, the Jews carved it out of the stone and planted it in the sand. The Palestinians are late arrivals in history, very late. Frankly, just about when you were born, not a minute earlier. Yet Israel, the state of the Jewish people, is willing for there to be for the Palestinian rump of the Arab world another polity. You know, you cannot not know how much peril this will be for the living remnant of Jewry, the transcendent remnant. Still, you squeeze and taunt and harry without the Arabs doing so much as uttering a calming sound or make a single practical concession.
President Obama, please do not celebrate our holiday and at the same time deny us the festival's essence. The fact is that in Cairo you denied the central themes of Jewish peoplehood. You diminished us by elevating the Holocaust as the only coinage of statehood, yes, the only coinage. Do not trifle with us.