If we look at the Passover/Exodus story in terms of political symbolism, it’s about the birth of the Israelites (the ancient ancestors of the Jews) as an independent people. For obvious reasons, the African-American spiritual tradition – both the music and the theology – draws powerfully on this narrative.
The Biblical portion of Bo refers to this time of Exodus and freedom, the Hebrew month of Nissan, as a “new year.” This is curious, since it’s clearly not Rosh Hashana, which is in the fall. It is the time of nature’s new year in that it’s the spring, the time of new life. But it’s also a revolutionary time, as the birth of a nation always is. I’m reminded that during it’s most radical phase, the French Revolution began a new calendar, counting “year one” as from the fall of the Bastille, renaming the months and even experimenting with a ten-day “week.”
We identify strongly as Jews with the freedom narrative of Passover. Even if ultra-Reform or secular, most Jews partake of something they call a “seder.”
As dramatized by the Passover story, we identify strongly with the poor and the oppressed. Yet, for the most part, American Jews are neither poor nor oppressed. The old cliche is that Jews “earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans” (no aspersions intended, at least not by me) — and this is still remarkably true.
There have been some conservative trends seeping into Jewish consciousness of late. For example, younger generations of Jews tend to be somewhat less liberal than their elders, possibly a symptom of youthful assertiveness and rebellion. Overall, the Jewish community is the most liberal-minded ethnic group in the country. I say this as a function of both voting behavior and attitudes on social issues – with a “mere” 75% vote for John Kerry over George W. Bush in 2004 having grown to an estimated 87% for Democrats in 2006; African Americans are somewhat more consistently loyal to the Democrats than Jews, but Jews are generally more tolerant in their social attitudes, such as on gay rights.
Consequently, one may legitimately ask if any trend toward conservatism would make Jews “less Jewish.” On the issues, this is a grossly unfair question. I believe that individual Jews who can and do trend toward the right by virtue of their honest convictions, are not truly “less Jewish”; such a conclusion is an insult to such people. But if Jewish political behavior as a group begins to closely resemble the political opinions and orientation of most other ethnic and religious groups in the US, which is distinctly to our right, this would be a sure sign that the American Jewish community has largely assimilated.
We’ll being taking the next day(s) off for Pesakh (Pesach, for you ‘traditional’ spellers). Enjoy and see you again soon.