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This Is No Time to Say “Dayenu”

The Editorial Board
March 24, 2013

An Editorial

From the Spring, 2013 issue of Jewish Currents

SEVERAL IMPORTANT PROGRESSIVE ANNIVERSARIES are cited in the current issue of our magazine. Dick Flacks observes in his “Viewpoint” article that President Obama’s second inauguration in January was bookmarked by the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the “I-Have-a-Dream” March on Washington. Esther Cohen takes note in her annual literary round-up of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which helped catalyze the modern feminist revolution. Lawrence Bush in “The Editor’s Diary” writes about preparing for next year’s 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer, the watershed campaign of voter registration and civil rights education. Finally, a very incomplete chronology of anti-Nazi uprisings in ghettos and concentration camps appears in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

These and other monumental events of progressive history, and the ways they have transformed the political culture, will not soon be reversed by Senate filibuster, or by “sequestration,” or by unrestricted corporate funding to influence elections, or even by voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the other attempts to undermine democracy. As the great majority of American Jews prepare to sit down at the seder table for Passover this year, our sense of “dayenu,” gratitude and relief, should be quite strong: The national elections in both the U.S. and Israel were solid renunciations of far-right shibboleths. In America, this rejection was strong enough for Republican powerbrokers to now look askance at the Tea Party and wonder — in the words of Pharaoh’s courtiers — “How long shall this one be a snare to us?” — while in Israel, the power of ultra-Orthodox Jews has been challenged for the first time in many years.

This is no time to say “Dayenu,” however. In the Passover story, Moses provides the model for what must be: Each time the Pharaoh gets rattled makes a concession, Moses holds fast to his demands. When Pharaoh responds to the plague of vermin by crying, “Go and sacrifice to your God within the land,” Moses insists that they “go a distance of three days into the wilderness.” When Pharaoh says, “Go, worship... Only your flocks and your herds shall be left behind,” Moses insists that “not a hoof shall remain behind...” He never replies, “Dayenu” — he demands justice.

Dayenu” will not do in Israel, where poverty and wealth polarization, corruption and greed, settler violence, and religious sexism and intolerance have all contributed to an atmosphere of chaos, for which it is difficult to identify a primary cause. The Occupation of the West Bank remains a visible tumor, however, that drains the resources of Israel, damages its own youth, alienates the world, and erodes the soul of justice in the Jewish State. “Dayenu” will not do just because a handful more yeshiva bokhers will be serving in the IDF — not if they are serving at West Bank checkpoints. The Occupation remains Israel’s unrelenting plague, and the sense of complacency about it that has invaded the public mood thanks to the diminution of terrorism over the past few years will not make the damaging effects of that plague go away.

In our own country, meanwhile, the utter lack of serious policy about global climate change (see this issue’s ‘Notes From a Small Planet’), the dismal War on Drugs and its racist impact (see Cheryl Greenberg’s review of The New Jim Crow), and the intensification of standardized testing and “accountability” for public schools (see the latest from contributor Joel Shatzky), are just a few among many issues about which the president and his party have been passive at best and culpable at worst. Right-to-work laws in Michigan? Fracking in Pennsylvania? Medicaid still on the chopping block? Unemployment still at 8 percent while the Dow breaks 14,000? Forty-seven million Americans living in poverty? We are not out of Egypt, not by a long shot.