This week, Jews around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of the Exodus â€“â€“ the biblical story about the freeing of ancient Israelite slaves in Egypt. While this event likely never took place, as there is no archaeological evidence showing ancient Israelites to have been in Egypt at the time, its message, one about the value of being a free people, is no less significant.
Regardless of the truth (or lack of) behind Exodus, there is no doubt that throughout history, Jews have often had our freedom taken from us.
But today, Jews find ourselves celebrating Passover around the world as free people â€“â€“ in control of many of our own institutions, fates and Israel.
And itâ€™s there, in Israel, that the hypocrisy of our Passover celebrations comes to light.
I donâ€™t have the space to share the history of the Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the point Iâ€™ve long argued with family and friends, and will now make here, is that itâ€™s not the history that matters, but where we are today.
And today, Jews find ourselves free.
There is a saying at the end of Passover Seder dinners that has been recited throughout time as a way of reminding Jews of home during the diaspora: â€œNext year in Jerusalem.â€
The saying vocalizes the hope that next year Jews will be able to freely celebrate in Jerusalem.
But since many Jews spent this Passover in Jerusalem, and any with the means and desire were free to do so, it seems we should take a minute to recognize the people who are not free to travel in and around Jerusalem. And more importantly than that, we need to acknowledge that we are the ones impeding their freedom.
Because as a free people, especially a free people who hold tremendous power and influence, particularly over the Palestinians living within Israelâ€™s Occupied Territories, Jews have a responsibility to live up to that freedom.
And as of today, we have failed to do so.
Some of you reading this are probably wondering why an American like me has any business writing about Israel.
Well, as a Jew who doesnâ€™t believe in the story of Passover, but does believe in its message â€“â€“ that people deserve the fundamental right to be free, to control their institutions and destiny â€“â€“ itâ€™s my job to speak up.
Bitter herbs and salt water are used at Seder dinners to symbolize and remind Jews of the bitterness of slavery and the salty tears our ancestors shed. If Jews truly want a reminder of the bitterness oppression brings, however, we need look no further than to the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
It is here that all Jews, American, European, Israeli and otherwise must ask ourselves: After our own history of oppression and all these years celebrating Passover, have we learned anything?
Our actions seem to indicate we have not.
Iâ€™ll never forget my first professor who challenged me on the issue of Israel and Palestine â€“â€“ showing a documentary that detailed the living conditions within the Occupied Territories.
It was hard to watch as a Jew. My belief in the need for Israel to exist (which continues today) blinded my ability to fathom how wrong some of its actions were. The documentary didnâ€™t care how predisposed to supporting Israel I was, though, reality is what it is.
My little brother and I went back and forth on this subject for years â€“â€“ for him that predisposition to support Israel wouldnâ€™t break so easily.
The two of us once stood outside the security wall that separates Israel from the West Bank, arguing over its justification to exist.
It wasnâ€™t until my brother had the chance to actually travel to the Occupied Territories that the reality of the situation got through.
The Jewish settlers (in Hebron) walk around freely with automatic weapons, in and out of checkpoints, while Palestinians are subject to complete Israeli control, my brother observed.
â€œThere was a clear ruler and people being ruled,â€ he says of it today.
The importance of his realization is that it is the people in power who control the outcomes, and so the responsibility to move the peace process forward stands squarely on Israelâ€™s shoulders, and consequently its supporters.
So this Passover, instead of celebrating events that likely never took place, itâ€™s my hope that Jews will look to the very real oppression that is taking place at our hands today; and that toasts of â€œNext year in Jerusalemâ€ include the hope that all the people of the land are able to walk it freely.
Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who goes to the mountains to not think. His column runs Thursday in the Collegian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.