Blue State Blues: Passover and the American Tradition of Freedom

Passover seder (Joe Raedle / Getty)
Joe Raedle / Getty

On Friday evening, April 19, Jews around the world with gather in family homes and community halls for the annual Passover seder, the festive meal celebrating the Exodus from Egypt, from slavery to freedom, thousands of years ago.

Jews are commanded not just to commemorate the Exodus, but to re-tell the story as if they had experienced it. We recite from the Passover Haggadah: “In every generation, a person must look upon himself as if he had left Egypt.”

It is, in many ways, a difficult obligation to fulfill, not just because few of us have ever been to Egypt, much less left there, but also because freedom itself is something Jews have rarely experienced in the past 2,000 years, until recently.

In the darkest days of the Inquisition, during the worst pogroms, and even during the Holocaust, Jews nevertheless recited the line: “We were slaves, but now we are children of freedom.” Freedom, we learn, transcends circumstances.

The converse is also true, to an extent. Most Jews live in free societies today. But many of those societies seem to have become detached from the principles that are the foundation of that freedom, which is beginning to seem more fragile.

In the United States, we are facing a crisis in that younger Americans do not seem to know, much less understand, what makes our country unique and great. Many are drawn to the false notion of “democratic socialism,” and its false prophets.

We are having trouble transmitting our values from one generation of Americans to the next — and from native-born or naturalized citizens on the one hand, to new immigrants on the other.

Currently, the loudest voices in national politics claiming to speak on behalf of immigrants are also the most radical voices challenging American values and beliefs. They deny that America was ever “great,” and insist that it can only be redeemed if it is fundamentally transformed.

The recent controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and her accusation that pro-Israel Americans have “allegiance to a foreign controversy” is not new. In fact, it is the oldest antisemitic idea, recounted in the Haggadah‘s re-telling of the Exodus, when Pharaoh justifies the enslavement of the Hebrews by warning they could join Egypt’s enemies: “Suppose he [Israel] becomes wise when he multiplies, and a war takes place, and he will he added to those who hate us.”

Last year’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh is also a reminder that the threat of antisemitism remains with us, despite the fact that Jews enjoy greater tolerance and safety in the United States than anywhere else in the world outside Israel. Unfortunately, to many on the left, the atrocity in Pittsburgh is a symbol of everything that is wrong with America, rather than the fact that antisemitism is a rare and discredited ideology in the U.S.

Our education system is a major part of the problem. Among all donors to the presidential campaign of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), teachers are the largest single occupation represented, the campaign says. That may only represent a minority of teachers, but it also tells us that a disproportionate number of those to whom we have entrusted the task of passing our values on to the next generation disagree with those values and would prefer a “revolution.”

We have other ways of passing on our values. As Americans, we share a few rituals: the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving dinner, jury duty, the national anthem at sporting events. But the latter is under attack — or was, until President Donald Trump intervened — and the rest seem insufficient. None — save the military — ask us to see ourselves as if we had personally seen the American Revolution, or the ratification of the Constitution, or the Emancipation Proclamation. Some are fortunate enough to have witnessed the civil rights movement, but even that has faded, its memory corrupted by politics. In the transgender movement — which does not ask for liberation as much as it asks the rest of us to burden ourselves with new ideas about sex — there is almost a yearning, however misguided, to feel that moment of freedom.

Likewise with the crisis at our border. The organization formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — now just known as HIAS — has issued a Passover Haggadah that compares the illegal migrants at the southern U.S. border to the slaves leaving Egypt. This is only the latest in what has become an annual tradition of Haggadot by left-wing organizations, for whom mere freedom is not enough. They are missing the point — but they are also filling a gap.

Culture, as Andrew Breitbart often said, is upstream of politics. The immediate and urgent cultural task for American conservatives is to find a way of sharing our values of liberty with the next generation — and with those who are arriving, legally, to join us.

The good news: people are hungry for that message of freedom. It is up to us to provide it.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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