Zionism Taps Into Parallels to Exodus
PassoverBringing Israel to the Seder Table

Zionism Taps Into Parallels to Exodus

For more than a century, aliyah has offered the same chance for freedom as the escape from Egypt

Rich Walter

Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org).

The Exodus from Egypt is considered to be the seminal experience in the history of the Jewish people. Each year during Passover, we gather around the table with family and friends for a seder to recount the story through readings, prayers and actions. All are meant to stimulate our personal attachment with this historic moment.

According to many sources, the Passover seder is the most widely celebrated Jewish event each year.

Much of the brilliance of the seder that takes place in the home lies in the powerful memories that it creates in each of us. While the seder is about preserving the memory of the Exodus from Egypt, it is also about creating new and lasting memories with those who sit around our table and remembering those who are no longer present.

This 1934 “Haggadah of Tel Aviv” is in the National Library of Israel.

One of the names for the holiday of Passover is Zman Cheiruteinu, the Time of Our Freedom, and at the core of the seder is the story of how a group of slaves left Egypt and emerged as a nation in their own land.

It is precisely because of this story of freedom that we feel the seder is also the perfect moment to reflect on the modern exodus of Jews to Israel. If the biblical Exodus is the source document of the Jewish people, then Zionism is its modern realization.

Early pioneers, especially those who settled on kibbutzim, created their own haggadot that reflected their hopes and visions for renewed Jewish life in the land of Israel. Many featured themes beyond the Exodus from Egypt, such as spring, nature, difficulties with the British administration and intercommunal violence in Mandatory Palestine.

Many of these haggadot can be found at the National Library of Israel.

The Exodus theme that is central to the Passover story also resonated for many Zionist and Israeli leaders as they sought to encourage Jews to make aliyah and move to Israel. Oftentimes, they used Passover imagery to emphasize that the Zionist efforts represented a modern liberation of Jews suffering persecution and were bringing them to freedom.

Some examples of this are the 1947 ship the SS Exodus, which, under the command of Yosi Harel, attempted to bring over 4,000 Holocaust survivors into Haifa before being intercepted by the British; Operation Moses, the first of several successful efforts to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel; and Operation Exodus, the 1990s initiative that, through the United Jewish Appeal, raised money to bring and resettle 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union.

As you gather around your seder table this year, we encourage you to infuse discussion of Israel into your ritual. Some suggestions for doing this can be found on the Center for Israel Education website.

Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org).

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