Washington Stand

Remembering the Passover in Troubled Times

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom
Supporters of Israel and Palestine protest outside of Columbia University on April 22, 2024, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Supporters of Israel and Palestine protest outside of Columbia University on April 22, 2024, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On my office wall hangs a framed print, created by Australian Jewish artist and friend Camille Fox. Her original painting is titled “Last Passover in Baghdad.” It depicts a gathering of 15 Jews of all ages, gathered around an elegant dining table, with a moonlit Middle East cityscape in the background. Their faces are mostly troubled and uncertain. Between 1950 and 1952, nearly all of Iraq’s endangered Jewish population had to flee their ancient homeland and resettle in Israel; the same happened in several other Middle Eastern countries.

Camille and I have never met face to face. But like many other friends that I made during the decade I lived in Israel, she and her family fled their Middle East homelands due to increasing anti-Jewish persecution, and hundreds of thousands resettled in Israel. I wrote about some of them in my book, “Saturday People, Sunday People.”

At first, those Jewish families struggled to survive in Israel, having abandoned all their belongings and financial resources when they fled. Some had been wealthy and successful, but most lost all but the proverbial shirts on their back and whatever fit inside one small suitcase. They had to start their lives all over again. It wasn’t easy living as refugees, yet despite their devastating losses, they and their children worked remarkably hard in their new surroundings. Eventually, they established peaceful and better-protected lives in Israel.

Meanwhile, since its founding, Israel has experienced several wars and innumerable rumors of wars, even while seeking to preserve tenuous peace with turbulent neighbors. Gradually, the Jewish State has created increasingly good relations with some nearby countries. However, today those relationships are being tested. Due to shifts in international attitudes — including American leadership — and thanks to antisemitic global propaganda, today’s world has presented Israel with escalating challenges, along with trying times for many Jewish people elsewhere.

Outside Israel, international anti-Semitism has always created a hostile undercurrent for Jews. However, it has surged dramatically since the horrifying Islamist attack on October 7 — when Hamas tortured, raped, and massacred 1,200 Jews, and kidnapped hundreds more. To Christians, that surge may seem contradictory, but Jewish lives are far from cherished in some cultures. Last week ADL— the Anti-Defamation League — reported their final statistics for antisemitic U.S. incidents in 2023: Jews suffered “8,873 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism across the country. The total represents a 140-percent increase from 2022 — already a record-setting year — and the highest level recorded since ADL started tracking this data in 1979.”

Another ADL February survey revealed that one-quarter of American Jews have been the target of anti-Semitism in the past year. Almost half of American Jews responding to the survey said they had altered their behavior during the past year to avoid personal danger — changing what they wore, what they posted online, or where they went so other people would not know they were Jewish.

Meanwhile, NBC reports that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose sharply in the three months after the Hamas attack on Israel. This, according to new data from the ADL, which tracked a total of 3,283 anti-Jewish incidents between October 7 and January 7.

On April 21, anti-Israel demonstrations in the U.S. took a dark turn when Columbia University protesters targeted Jewish students with anti-Semitic vitriol that was captured in video and photos. The verbal attacks left many of Columbia’s 5,000 Jewish students fearful for their lives, whether on campus or elsewhere. Their persecution attracted broad attention and, eventually, condemnation from the White House and Mayor Eric Adams (D) of New York City

At the same time, Iranian attacks against Israel have increased alarmingly. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has hinted that “Iran’s revenge attack on Israel on April 14 may have caused little damage.” But Khamenei went on to say that “the main issue is the emergence of the willpower of the Iranian nation and the armed forces in the international arena.”

While all this has unfolded, President Joe Biden’s posture toward the Israel-Iran conflict has seemed self-contradictory — supportive then accusatory. To make matters worse, according to researchers at the Jewish Policy Center:

“President Biden has gone further than any other U.S. president in helping Iran by removing sanctions on Iran and its proxies; failing to veto the expiration of UN sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program; issuing billions of dollars’ worth of sanction waivers on Iranian oil deliveries to China and elsewhere; ignoring illegal American parts found in Iranian drones used in Ukraine; and releasing billions of dollars to the anti-Israel and anti-American regime. The president has never explained why the U.S. has taken so many steps that benefit a regime that has been sanctioned for terror activity at many levels.”

Israel isn’t just a poignant painting on a wall or a colorful map in a book. In today’s troubled world, we are beginning to understand the intensifying physical, emotional and spiritual threats Israelis face from every direction. For reasons of His own, God has regathered the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. Just this week, they have once against faithfully observed the remembrance of the first Passover there. Let’s pray and stand courageously alongside them.

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