…..According to Rabbinic tradition, anti-Semitism starts when Jews beguile themselves into thinking they can fulfill their destiny in exile. Ironically, at the same time that the old anti-Semitism was giving way, the seeds of the new anti-Semitism were being planted. In France, Charles de Gaulle, who during the war supported a merger of the French and British empires grew fiercely nationalistic and completely rejected Western hegemony. He withdrew from NATO and terminated an extremely cooperative relationship with Israel in technology, nuclear research, and armaments. All of this came as a shock to much of de Gaulle’s constituency. After the Six Day War, not only did de Gaulle question Israel’s legitimacy, he denounced Jews as an “elite, self-assured, and domineering people,” equipped with “vast resources in terms of money, influence, and propaganda.” His legacy of an all-powerful bureaucracy committed to national independence influenced Western Europe. His anti-American, pro-Arab, and anti-Israel policies evolved into today’s EU foreign policy.
Two other developments added to the problem: (1) Europe’s virtuous cycle started to unravel. Heavy-handed overregulation from central planning in Brussels generated disillusionment as lower wages, diminished welfare payments and national bankruptcies became the new reality. (2) Europe’s demography shifted; birthrates plummeted and immigration from Muslim countries reached unprecedented heights bringing with it radical Islam’s rejection of democracy and, needless to add, Jews.
For years, there were delusory expectations that Muslims would gradually become integrated into the mainstream. Such hopes are long gone. In fact, in a completely illogical twist, a new-found European xenophobia against Islam (80% of the French electorate believe Islam is “forcing its ways on French society,” and 70% of Germans associate Islam with “fanaticism and radicalism”) lumps Judaism also as an alien creed that must be curtailed. Europeans point to external similarities: related Semitic languages, ritually processed food, circumcision, and gender separation. Hence, 2/5 of Britons and up to 3/4 of Germans now oppose circumcision; kosher slaughtering is already prohibited in five European countries.
Political figures have rushed to condone these developments. France’s prime minister in the Sarkozy administration urged Muslims and Jews to renounce “ancestral traditions.” Marine Le Pen suggested that both the Islamic female veil and the Jewish male kippah be banned in public. But putting Jews in the same category as Muslims to appear evenhanded is absurd.
So what are Jews to do? Was European Jewry reborn only to die again? Many are considering emigration. Should this become widespread, it will inevitably be followed by the shrinkage of Jewish institutions, the drying-up of religious and cultural life, erosion of morale, growing anxiety, and more emigration. The signs are everywhere. Four-fifths of young Jews marrying no longer see their future in their country of birth. Is the millennia-old civilization of European Jewry to fade away as occurred in Moslem countries of North Africa and the Middle East?
According to the Talmud the four cups of wine in the Pesach Seder are related to the four “cups” is mentioned by Pharaoh’s jailed butler as he recounts his dream to Joseph. But what do the four cups of bondage have to do with Joseph? By all accounts, Joseph eventually “made it” in Egypt!
A survey of Joseph’s career reveals an interesting trajectory. He names his first son Menashe, meaning, “G-d has made me forget my hardship.” Gone are the troubles of his youth. Joseph is now Egyptian, with an Egyptian name, wife and family. His second son however is Ephraim meaning, “G-d has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.” Why is Egypt the land of his affliction? Has his view of Egypt changed?
Yes! Joseph ultimately requests that when G-d redeems His people from oppression, that his bones be taken. What did Joseph know? At that time, all was prosperous in Egypt. The answer is clear: Despite the accouterments of wealth and power, it was not Joseph’s land.
The Talmud is reminding us that Pesach is not just for the oppressed; Pesach is for the Josephs too. Joseph had contributed mightily to the well-being of the country and secured temporary safety, but soon there, “arose a new king who did not know Joseph.” Jews must always ask about their place in society.
People in exile are ready to move. People at home stand up to defend what is theirs. This is why - historically - so many Jews were willing to wander or went like “sheep” to the slaughter. Compare this to the last sixty years of fighting Jewish spirit in Israel and the tenacity of the settlers who get thrown off a mountaintop on Tuesday, only to return with their caravans on Wednesday. We are truly living in miraculous times: not the least among them the ingathering of exiled communities. We are witnessing prophecy come alive. So when we drink the four cups, we remember not only the poor slave, but also Joseph. Some Jews have made it to castle; nonetheless we all are in exile. May we soon all raise our cups together in our own land!