In three days, Pesach (Passover, for my non-Jewish readers) will be upon us. When we sit down at the Seder table on Saturday night, we will be part of a tradition that stretches back more than three thousand years. When we sit down at the Seder table, I am always conscious of the incredible fact that all around the world, at this very moment, millions of Jews are doing exactly the same thing, reading from the same book, the Haggadah, eating the same symbolic foods – the parsley, the charoset, the bitter herbs, the matza (unleavened bread) and it gives me a wonderful feeling of oneness, of identity with my people. The Chosen People.
And with good reason. Pesach marks the birth of the Jewish People as a nation. The Israelite tribes were driven to Egypt 400 years earlier by famine. In Egypt, they were forced into slavery. They left Egypt an unruly rabble of freed slaves but at Mount Sinai, they accepted a way of life and a destiny. It took forty years of wandering in the wilderness to meld them, but they entered the Promised Land a nation.
Our enemies do not recognise our nationhood. They claim that to be Jewish is to be part of a religion, not a People. But what is a People? Surely the essence of a People is a common history, language, culture. The Palestinians claim to be a People, even though, until the State of Israel was born, the notion of a Palestinian People did not exist and they considered themselves part of the Arab Nation. That was just 60 years ago. We Jews have considered ourselves to be a People since the Exodus from Egypt. We are a People, because we share a three thousand year old history. We are a People, because we share a three thousand year old culture. We are a People because we share a three thousand year old Law. We are a People, because we share a three thousand year old way of life. Because Judaism is not just a set of religious laws, it is a way of life, a legal, moral, cultural and social framework encompassing all facets of life.
We are a People, because we share a common memory, a memory that is older even than the Exodus, that stretches back at least five hundred years before that, to Abraham, who left his home in Chaldaea and travelled to a narrow strip of mostly arid land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea because G-d so commanded. To Isaac, Abraham’s son, and to his son, Jacob and his descendants, who remained faithful to the One True G-d whilst the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son, whom the Arabs claim as their forefather, turned to idolatry, until Mohammed, inspired byJudaism, brought them his own version, Islam – and enforced it by the sword.
The Palestinians claim the right of self-determination, and the world supports them. We Jews defined ourselves as a people over three thousand years ago. As we sit down to the Seder, we remember that defining moment. And as long as we continue to celebrate the Seder, as long as we keep that memory alive in our hearts, no-one can take away from us the fact that we are a People. That we are a nation. That we are.