April 1, 2015 admin

Pesach 3: Picture your Pharoah

Something from Law and Tradition: Forming our Identity
The Haggadah is Judaism’s most printed book, with hundreds of editions from the deeply traditional to the Bundist, Zionist, Communist and even vegetarian, to say nothing of what’s available on line. The Haggadah also has also inspired a fascinating range of illustrations (Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s superb Haggadah and History offers rich examples from 600 years.) The Seder may also be Judaism’s best kept ritual, appealing not only to our soul but to our sense of family, history, culture, values and identity. Indeed, its story, in which the Exodus from Egypt is both history and myth, both itself and the spur for countless other narratives and testaments of persecution and survival, is for Judaism the story of all stories. All our lives and values are interwoven with it.
The traditional Haggadah presents the world in terms of ‘them and us’. Not just once but ‘in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us’. Few will be in the mood to dispute the relevance of that statement today. The Haggadah is thus a remarkable testament to Jewish faith, courage, tenacity and hope, attitudes we need now no less than ever.
Yet what about the ‘them’; what of the ‘other’? As Jacques Derrida argues, there is no identity of defining our own identity without also describing our other. We, who have so often been cast as the dominant power’s ‘other’ know perhaps better than anyone the very worst of what that can mean. It’s foolish to deny that there exist cunning and well-armed enemies not only of Jews, but also of freedom everywhere. Painfully, we live with this reality. Therefore all the more so must the task be to make the ‘us’ as broad as we can, and the ‘them’ as few possible. The ‘us’ should include all who struggle against marginalisation, persecution and destruction, and all who fight against cruelty, hatred and indifference for justice, understanding and compassion. We should make this clear in the way we tell our Haggadah.
Something from History 
Two days before Pesach, at 7.21am on March 27 1945, the penultimate V2 of the Second World War struck Hughes Mansions in the East End. Of the 134 people killed, 120 were Jews. Among them were Jonathan Freedland’s grandmother Feige and her sister Rivvy. Only a couple of days earlier Feige had written to children, who were still living outside the city for safety:
I know how much you have been looking forward to Pesach here…But I really think it’s for the best if you stay at school, just until everything is all sorted out….
Among them was also Anthony Rudolf’s second cousin Mark Rothstein. He writes with painful irony:
What a stroke of luck for the Nazis that the V-2, designed for random terror or, in Hitler’s word, “vengeance”, hit so many of their prime enemies. In the words of the traitor Lord Haw-Haw: “Hardest of all, the Luftwaffe will smash Stepney. I know the East End! Those dirty Jews and Cockneys will run like rabbits into their holes.”
That was exactly 70 years ago, – 2 days before Seder night, the same Hebrew date as tomorrow. It’s right to remember.

Something Practical
Pictures can provide a wonderful entrance point into the Seder. They may come from the Haggadah itself; every edition presents a different viewpoint. Or you might make your own choice of pictures as a way of ‘commenting’ on a particular point, or produce drawings yourself. Sharing photocopies of a couple of different illustrations of the same passage can generate fascinating discussion. A wonderful range of materials is available about The Four Children, but this is not the only opportunity. Who, for example, would be your more recent equivalent of the rabbis up all night talking about the Exodus during the Roman persecutions? How would you picture your Pharaoh?

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