Photograph by Cottonbro Studios via Pexels

Post-Passover reflection

May 14, 2024

“Peace is elusive, and evil is persistent.” That was the main point I made when I brought remarks at the Community Seder sponsored by the American Jewish Committee held at Temple-Tifereth Israel on April 16, 2024. The focus of every seder is remembering how God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt after 430 years of slavery. I am certain that those people believed that their oppression was now behind them. Once they crossed the Red Sea, assembled at Mt. Sinai, crossed both a desert and the Jordan River and entered their Promised Land of Canaan, they hoped that the worst was now behind them. What they quickly found out was that peace is elusive and evil is persistent. It would not be long before Israel would become subject to the oppressive power of one ancient empire after another: first Assyria, then Babylon, Persia, Greece, and finally Rome.

Except for the years when David and Solomon reigned in Jerusalem, Israel faced the persistence of evil that sought to conquer their land, subjugate their people, and even obliterate their cultural identity. The Passover Seder commemorates Israel’s freedom from Egypt, but that was not the end of their suffering. They would eventually be forcibly uprooted from Palestine by the Romans. They would live in diaspora all over Europe. They would face forced conversions under penalty of death during the Spanish Inquisition. They would face pogroms in Russia and a Holocaust that consumed over six million Jewish lives between 1933-1945.

Needless to say, the reality of the October 7, 2023 attack by Hamas against Israel that resulted in over 1100 Israelis being killed and over 200 taken hostage hung over the Community Seder at Temple-Tifereth Israel like a heavy cloud of grief and anguish. It was clear as we remembered those who came out of bondage in Egypt that peace is elusive, and that evil is persistent. The joy of deliverance from 430 years of slavery in Egypt was matched by the oppressive rule of other ancient empires that would last twice that long.

I wanted to remind the hundreds of people who had gathered from that Seder from throughout Greater Cleveland that other groups of people have also learned through many years of struggle that peace is elusive, and evil is persistent. My own African American ancestors came out of 246 years of slavery in this country (1619-1865) believing that they had endured the worst and that a better life awaited them. Within one year of their freedom from slavery they were met with one wave after another of white supremacists that wanted to maintain the old social order. The Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups called their actions the work of “redemption”—by which they meant redeeming the South from the presence of Black people as equal citizens. Slavery gave way to the horrors of sharecropping and the convict lease system. That was followed by Jim Crow laws, state-enforced racial segregation, lynch mob justice, voter suppression, and underfunded schools that became the basis for an economic underclass molded by centuries of economic and political neglect. Peace is elusive, and evil is persistent.

The world has tried to bring an end to war and establish peace on earth. However, as the evil of war continues in Gaza, each of us at the community Passover Seder I attended, and those gathered in encampments on college campuses across the country, are keenly aware that peace is elusive and evil is persistent.

The world has tried to bring an end to war and establish peace on earth. However, the evil of war continues in Sudan, Gaza, Ukraine, and in many countries in Central and South America. World War I was called the war to end all wars, but it eventually gave birth to World War II, which led to the Korean War, which morphed into the war in Vietnam. Peace deals to end the fighting in the Middle East have been debated and adopted. However, the fighting there continues to this day.

Speaking of the reality of war as a persistent problem in that part of the world, there was something else going on outside the walls of the synagogue where we had gathered to observe a Passover Seder. Students at nearby Case Western Reserve University had set up an encampment just outside the library on that campus. In fact, the same thing was occurring on college campuses across the country from Columbia University in New York City to UCLA in Los Angeles. Those student-led protests are forcing the world to take a longer look at the violence in Israel/Palestine, as they are demanding a ceasefire and divestment from Israel.

Much was said at our Seder about the atrocities inflicted upon Israelis on October 7. However, little or nothing was being said about the over 34,000 innocent civilians killed in Gaza by Israeli military, of which 15,000 were children, who had no connection to Hamas. Nothing was said of the millions of people now living in Gaza in inhumane conditions, without basic resources such as food, water, and medical attention, because of military strikes led by the Israel Defense Forces and withholding of humanitarian aid.

The issues being debated in those tent cities, both in Gaza and student encampments across the U.S., deserve our attention as a nation. Why did the government of Israel decide to inflict damages upon Gaza so wildly disproportionate to the damage the country had experienced on October 7? Why would a people with a recent history of being mercilessly targeted by the Nazis in World War II solely because of their identity seem ready and willing to do the same thing to another group of human beings?

Can there still be a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine after the carnage that has been inflicted and experienced on both sides? Is a ceasefire in this war possible while hostages are still being held by both sides? Is a long-term peace agreement possible? Should the United States continue to supply Israel with the very weapons that are being used in what some observers refer to as war crimes or crimes against humanity? Should President Biden be denied a second term in office because of the way he has apparently stood solidly behind Israel despite the IDF’s brutality in attacking locations where civilians were unavoidably in the line of fire?

As someone who was a student at both Columbia in the 1970s and Case Western Reserve University in the 1990s, and as someone with a long personal history of political and social activism, I cannot help but think about those college students that are exercising their First Amendment rights to call our nation’s attention to all these troubling questions.

At Temple-Tifereth Israel, we ended the Community Seder by singing “We Shall Overcome” in Hebrew and English. However, each of us leaving that event, and those gathered in encampments on college campuses across the country, are keenly aware that peace is elusive, and evil is persistent.

Dr. Marvin A. McMickle is interim senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland. He served as president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Rochester, New York, from 2011 to 2019.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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