My family does not observe Passover. We did when my grandparents were alive, but not every year. I still remember my grandmother's Matzah-ball soup, which was delicious. My brother is in Malaga, in Spain, celebrating Semana Santa (Holy Week). A good friend of his belongs to a group, possibly more than a thousand years old, who carry a heavy statue of a saint down the streets of Malaga. The statue has gold and silver on it, and is very heavy. The group carry this statue every year on Semana Santa. My brother is the only Jew to ever join this group, as far as I'm aware. It's an honor he greatly enjoys. I'm not sure he's religious, either Jewish or Christian, but he likes the camaraderie.
I was so busy with Scottish Rite last week that I never gave myself enough time to find a seder, so on Monday I sent an email to the Men's Group that meets at my synagogue asking if anyone had a spare seat at their Passover table for me, for the First Seder. Observant Jews celebrate two Passover seders, on two consecutive nights. I usually only go to one. This week there are seders on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Thursday night is the officer's rehearsal at my blue lodge, and while I'm not an officer, there was a chance I might be called in to be present for reasons I'm not sure I'm at liberty to divulge (although nothing bad, I assure you, gentle reader), so I only looked for a Wednesday night seder. I didn't take any time off of work, even though the first day of Passover is a Yom Tov, or holy day, in which work is traditionally forbidden. I just started a contract job. If I were on salary in a job I've had for a while, I'd take a paid vacation, but I feel it's too soon to take unpaid leave from my new job.
A woman from my synagogue who I'm friends with invited me to her Passover seder. Her mother was there, and a few people from our synagogue, along with other friends of hers. It was a lovely evening. We used a Haggadah edited by Elie Wiesel, and I really enjoyed the way we went through the seder ritual. I brought a bottle of red wine from the Golan Heights, and a bottle of raisin-flavored kosher vodka. The ritual involves four cups of wine, or literally, four cups of a grape product, so the vodka was a legitimate substitute, which I enjoyed for the third cup. I had a great time, and was really touched that she would invite me.
The climax of the Passover seder is the toast for the fourth cup of wine:
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָיִם׃or "Next year in Jerusalem!" Taken as a political statement, it has troubled me in the past. I struggle with my relationship to Zionism. I'm neither a Zionist nor an anti-Zionist. I'm grateful for the existence of the State of Israel, that the millenia of wandering for the Jews is over, but the Palestinian situation is unresolved, and I understand that Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is their land, too. The Prophet ascended to Heaven from the Temple Mount, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque is a fitting celebration of that event. That means that if a Third Temple is to be built, either the Al-Aqsa Mosque will be destroyed (which I would regard as an atrocity), or it will have to be incorporated into the scheme of the new Temple. The implications to Freemasonry that the rebuilding of the Temple would have are enormous and fascinating, especially since we have regarded the Temple as a metaphor for the relationship between the soul, the body, and the world we inhabit. A real Temple would change the way we regard the Temple in our ritual.
Orthodox Jews, and some Conservative Jews feel that the Jewish religion is in some kind of suspension until there is a Temple in which the presence of God can dwell (the Shekhinah). Some want to resurrect the ancient Priesthood, the Kohanim, and start animal sacrifices again. There are rabbis in Israel who are planning the building of the Third Temple (although they represent an extreme fringe), and the Orthodox version of the Amidah prayer, recited thrice daily, asks God to help us rebuild the Temple and go back to regular animal sacrifices. Some fundamentalist Christians, especially post-Millenials, are offering to help rebuild the Temple because they believe that the Rapture will not occur until the Temple is rebuilt. They believe the Jews will convent en masse when Jesus returns, or spend eternity in Hell. Christian Zionists help on the assumption that the majority of Jews in Zion will convert to Christianity, which is kind of creepy, in my opinion.
When the Second Temple was destroyed, it was the most significant catastrophe for the Jewish religion in its history. The Jewish religion up until that point was centered around a central location, a single Temple. The three great festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, required that Jews make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Passover included a sacrificial lamb, who had to be sacrificed in the Temple courtyard in order to be kosher.
The rabbis of that era responded by replacing animal sacrifice at the Temple with prayer. They wrote the Amidah prayer as a substitute, to be recited at the times where the Torah commands the Priesthood to sacrifice animals. The Kohanim lost their considerable power, and the rabbi replaced the priest as leader of the Jewish people. The rabbi is a lay person, like everyone else. Rabbis are more learned than the general population, but there is nothing inherently sacred about a rabbi, the way there is for priests in Catholicism.
Prayer is better than animal sacrifice. Let me repeat that: prayer is better than animal sacrifice. Once more: prayer is better than animal sacrifice. A well-developed spiritual technology does not need animal sacrifice, but it cannot exist without prayer or meditation. When we lost the Temple, Jews evolved into something better than we were before. When we lost a central edifice, we became universal in space, which is better than being local. We developed the Sabbath as a "Cathedral in Time" to replace the Temple we lost. The Sabbath is one of the greatest pieces of spiritual technology ever invented, and the loss of the Temple helped craft it into what it is today. We needed to lose the Temple and lose Eretz Yisrael to become the people we are today, stronger, deeper, and far more spiritual than we were before.
Zionism, as a movement, has had two very distinct forms. Secular Zionists were looking for a homeland for the Jewish people to stave off the horrible oppression Jews found in Europe and the Middle East. It started as an one of many other Nationalist movements throughout the world. Religious Zionists were looking to fulfill their destiny, and to bring about the Messianic Redemption. Religious anti-Zionists, like the Satmar Hasids, object to the State of Israel because it was not founded by the Messiah. They feel that a secular State of Israel is a blasphemy. Secular Zionists make no Messianic claims about the State of Israel. They just want a modern nation-state centered around the Jewish people, a Jewish homeland. Because being Jewish can be considered a religion, an ethnicity, a nationality, or a civilization, these lines get very blurred when deciding who is a member of a Jewish nation-state.
I am of the opinion that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world in which to be a Jew. While there was some oppression in Spanish America, and even under the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, the First Amendment gave Jews freedom of conscience. Moses Michael Hays was made Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1792, and in 1825, Solomon Simson became Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. While there has been anti-Semitism in the USA, and still is to some extent, there have never been pogroms here like there have been everywhere else in the world. Worshipful Brother George Washington addressed a synagogue in Providence, RI, when he was President. Our current President is hosting and attending a Second Seder, so that his Jewish employees can spend the First Seder with their families. There are dark moments in our history, such as the lynching of Leo Frank and the Jewish quotas. The Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman was accepted to Columbia University, and then later rejected because they had exceeded the number of Jews they were willing to matriculate that year. Many boats loaded with Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism and Fascism were turned away at our ports in the 1930s and 1940s. That being said, Jews have been able to live a life here in the USA that is better, freer, and happier than they have in any other country in the world, including the State of Israel.
So I don't thirst for a return to Zion as many Jews do. I have to admit that the Hatikva affects me emotionally:
|כֹּל עוֹד בַּלֵּבָב פְּנִימָה||Kol ‘od balleivav penimah||As long as in the heart, within,|
|נֶפֶשׁ יְהוּדִי הוֹמִיָּה,||Nefesh yehudi homiyah,||A Jewish soul still yearns,|
|וּלְפַאֲתֵי מִזְרָח, קָדִימָה,||Ul(e)fa’atei mizrach kadimah,||And onward, towards the ends of the east,|
|עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה;||‘Ayin letziyon tzofiyah;||An eye still gazes toward Zion;|
|עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ,||‘Od lo avdah tikvateinu,||Our hope is not yet lost,|
|הַתִּקְוָה בַּת שְׁנוֹת אַלְפַּיִם,||Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim,||The hope of two thousand years,|
|לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ,||Lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu,||To be a free people in our land,|
|אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם.||Eretz-tziyon vy(e)rushalayim.||The land of Zion and Jerusalem.|
But I think it's a terrible national anthem. No non-Jewish citizen of the State of Israel can sing this song, and I believe in freedom of conscience.
That being said, while I can find that stirring in my nefesh yehudi, my Jewish soul, when I search for it, I'd rather be a free person in the USA. I believe in the separation of Church and State. My patriotic loyalties are to the USA and not to Israel. There was a case a few years ago of a Jewish citizen of the USA spying for Israel, and I regard him as a traitor. I regard Israel as a valuable, if troubled ally of the USA. I know that the Right of Return waits for me there, but I cannot imagine that I will ever make Aliyah, and become an Israeli. I thank God the State of Israel exists, although I know that God will destroy the State of Israel if it ends up offending Him, just as He has done before.
This has been a long post, but I want to justify why I feel that "Next year in Jerusalem" is an appropriate toast to end the Passover seder. I'm reading a book right now, "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust", by Yaffa Eliach. There's a story in there about Passover in Auschwitz. A group of Hasidic Jews risked their lives to scrounge together a few pieces of matzah in order to have a Passover seder in their barracks. They mixed unraised flour they bribed a Polish employee of the camp to obtain, mixed it with water, and burned it over an open fire to produce blackened panes of something that while technically matzah, was pretty nearly inedible. At any stage of this process, if a guard had spotted them, the would have been murdered. They had no wine, no charoset, no bitter herbs, no roasted egg, no shankbone. All they had was this improvised matzah. For them to say "Next year in Jerusalem", those who were facing imminent death, is an optimism that verged on madness. For me, a free Jew in a free country, to echo even an iota of their faith is the very least I can do. Someone survived that seder, and now lives in Jerusalem. His prayer came true. That's the power of faith.