Passover—or, as I call it, Jewish Thanksgiving—is the pinnacle of religious celebration in my book. There’s the opportunity to get together with family, you have an excuse to make charoset (seriously, why hasn’t that caught on with Gentiles yet?), and Western Jews finally get a chance to immerse ourselves in history.

And, if you skirt the rules a bit, you don’t have to restrict your diet too much for that entire week.

Another cool thing about Passover is that it’s easier to feel connected with the Christian world, since the observance of Easter doesn’t tend to overshadow the way that Christmas does Hanukkah. For both religions, there seems to be more emphasis on the meaning behind these two holidays, and not so much on one-upping each other’s festiveness. Despite the different origins, Easter’s being Jesus’ resurrection and Passover’s the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, there is still some overlap in that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder—according to the Books of Mark, Matthew and Luke in the New Testament. In an America where ethnic differences have become top-of-mind in the media, the corporate world and throughout academia, it’s kind of nice to feel some commonality for once. It’s also nice to know that outsiders are always welcome to join the seder and drink Elijah’s wine when the kids aren’t looking.

Perhaps the most important parallel between Passover and Easter, however, is the custom of re-enactment. While Christianity implements observances such as the fourteen Stations of the Cross and mock crucifixions, as is seen during Holy Week in Mexico, the seder includes symbolic menu items and a recounting of the ten plagues. Howard Stern and Gilbert Gottfried once lamented that Christians turn even the death of Jesus into a celebration of his return, while Jews bring themselves down with edible reminders of the blood and tears of slaves—not to mention, the bricks and mortar they carried as well. Still, every Jew will remember for eternity those ten plagues, the backbreaking work, the lesson in maturity from the Four Sons.

Every spring, my family reads from the Haggadah. We don’t omit any important details of the story, we don’t change any problematic names, and we don’t recite the blessings in a language other than Hebrew. We don’t throw out any family heirlooms because some great-grandparent or cousin hurt our feelings years ago. We certainly don’t come up with psychotic lore that Moses was actually a trans woman living an ethically non-monogamous lifestyle. Instead, we delve into the customs and traditions that have been passed down for thousands of years. Whether or not we agree with the actions of the characters, we become and actively participate in the history that brought humanity to the twenty-first century. This may be the best way to not only connect substantively with the past, but also to wonder what I would have done had I been in Moses’ position.

Since the end of the Civil War, re-enactments have been a part of American culture in some regions of the country. They include actors who play both Union and Confederate soldiers, both Grant and Lee. To erase any of these roles would be to deny any war ever happened, and to imply that any of that war’s effects appeared out of thin air. Many have also grown up with school field trips to colonial villages that make candles and butter by hand. We now have the choice to live with modern conveniences and clothing styles, but a number of misled leftists have been trying to erase the existence of history. I’ve thought about the recent removals of flags and statues, even those of people who used to be considered progressive or abolitionist leaders. A fairly common argument is for a Jew to consider the thought of walking in modern-day Berlin still covered in swastikas and Nazis on pedestals. It is obviously a valid point and, of course, historically many statue removals have been the result of military conquest, not feelings. However, there have been recent efforts by nameless bureaucrats to take public memory into their own hands.

True, there will always be delusional pilgrims who journey to these relics to wax nostalgic about the “good ol’ days.” Does that mean that these historical figures never lived or reigned? Why even give the impression that Hitler had no supporters, or that Robert E. Lee is actually an inclusive piece of modern art? Is there no middle ground in this debate?

Perhaps it is far more productive, enlightening and healing to sit with the discomfort of reality and accept that bad people sometimes do bad things to innocent people. The way to deal with that evil is not to pretend that it doesn’t exist, but rather to examine its origins and understand it—to know one’s enemy. 

As psychologist Jordan Peterson often points out, statistically, the majority of present-day people, had they been in Nazi Germany would have been Nazis, even many of those who were targets of the regime. Whether out of allegiance or out of fear, the mere danger in associating with certain people in that environment is precisely why totalitarianism was able to flourish in the way that it did. Since the end of World War II, many researchers such as Stanley Milgram have sought to understand what it is in human nature that leads to the adoption of such absurd ideology. It is the same phenomenon that kept Jim Crow democrats in office in the South. It cannot even be explained away as a problem of primitive times or geography, as Western society overall has demonstrated its own mass hysteria within the past fifteen years. This is naivete toward history, as well as disrespect toward those who warned the rest of us not to repeat it.

Better to create more seders and show this history for what it is. American and Western history altogether should be acted out and analyzed. Symbolically becoming both the oppressors and the oppressed, the victors and the defeated, will lead more young Americans to understand the founding of this country, free market capitalism, free speech and many of the other ideas that people on the left and right have bastardized into simplistic political rhetoric.

This Passover is an opportunity to explore the complexity and nuance of the past, and yet appreciate that that messy stumbling of human civilization has gotten us this far.

But, most importantly, stay away from the gefilte fish.

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