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Israeli Passover Out of Africa

moses in the bulrushes graphic

Contemporary Sudanese Moses in the bulrushes (Amir Schiby)

“You shall not oppress the stranger [immigrant] because you know the soul of the stranger, for you yourselves were immigrants in the land of Egypt”

Exodus 23:9

“The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-side; and she saw the ark among the flags, and sent her handmaid to fetch it. She opened it, and saw it, even the child; and behold a boy that wept. And she had compassion on him, and said: ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter: ‘Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her: ‘Go.’ And the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her: ‘Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.’ And the woman took the child, and nursed it. The child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: ‘Because I drew him out of the water.”

Exodus 2:2 ff.

Tonight is the first night of Passover.  On that theme: yesterday, I saw a wonderful Facebook graphic composed by Amir Schiby.  It features the traditional Moses-in-the-bulrushes theme with Pharaoh’s daughter and Miriam, Moses sister, along with the baby Moses in a basket in the Nile.

Given that this is work by Schiby, there is an ironic subtext for the graphic.  The caption says:

Meantime on the Yarkon [River]:

Pharaoh’s daughter: Another Sudanese infant. The crocodiles will be out tonight.

The backdrop to this graphic is the predicament of African refugees from Ethiopia and Sudan who travel hundreds of miles across barren deserts to find refuge in Israel.  Once there, they face a fierce and mounting level of racism and violence from nationalist Israelis in the mold of the English EDP, Jean Marie Le Pen and other European anti-immigrant groups.  There have been riots in Tel Aviv and MKs, including some pictured in the graphic (Likud MK Miri Regev plays Pharaoh’s daughter), have goaded them on with rhetoric that calls the refugees a “cancer” and worse.

Unlike Pharaoh’s daughter in the original Biblical story, who saves the infant Moses, Miri Regev and her other racist MK friends are going to throw this poor Sudanese baby to the Israeli crocodiles.  The ones who lie in wait somewhere in the poor neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, where racism flourishes as well as want.

Schiby’s brilliant work reminds us that we too were once strangers in an African land.  We too faced persecution and murderous racism.  We too were viewed as aliens and foreign enemies of the state.  The underlying message is that if we forget our history and its connection to the history of other peoples, we will lose our humanity.  Further, we will betray our own Jewish heritage by ignoring the suffering of the stranger in violation of the explicit command of the Book of Exodus.

A further incendiary thought: what is the Nakba but yet another mass expulsion in which a people was rendered homeless by the massed power of the Israeli state?  If you think of the Palestinians of Israel driven from their villages by the Palmach and the horsemen and chariots of Pharaoh’s army pursuing the Children of Israeli into the Red Sea, they are historical mirror images.

I have written a great deal in past years on the Passover holiday and its themes.  I hope you’ll read some of my pieces which deserve attention.  In 2010, I wrote a longer blog post on the themes above.  I produced an hour-long radio documentary of Passover music.  I also wrote this meditation on the power and meaning of the Abraham and Moses stories for contemporary Jewish identity.  I also translated a Sholem Aleichem children’s Passover story about Elijah the Prophet.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Deïr Yassin March 26, 2013, 4:32 AM

    In order for the Jews to memorize their past sufferings – whether real or mythical – the West Bank has been totally closed again, as at every Jewish holiday. No Palestinian will be allowed to travel except for medical reasons. If that isn’t a sign of pathological navel-gazing, I don’t know what it is.

    • Elad R March 26, 2013, 10:48 AM

      Can a Palestinian travel from Ramallah to other places within the PA authority ?
      You description isn’t accurate – to say the least
      Palestinians can’t travel into Israel during the holiday, They can travel anywhere they want within PA territory.

      • Deïr Yassin March 26, 2013, 12:18 PM

        If Haaretz can use the vocabulary ‘sealing off’ or the army spokesperson ‘closing down’ so can I. But you’re right: the Allenby Bridge has only been partially closed … but if you planned going to Jerusalem, it’s not really useful. But what the h… should Palestinians do in Jerusalem anyway, right.
        But you’re right, the Palestinians can travel freely WITHIN their cage…..

        • Elad R March 26, 2013, 12:35 PM

          The cage as you call it, is more or less the area allocated to the future Palestinian state.
          Would you feel more comfortable about things if it was between two states ?

          • Deïr Yassin March 26, 2013, 12:53 PM

            Why don’t you stay on topic ? Your comment has nothing to do with the fact that at every Jewish holiday the Palestinians from the West Bank are even more restricted in their travelling than normally, but you’re basically saying that in your plan for a future Palestinian state, the State of Israel should continue guarding the border to Jordan, deciding who can travel and who can’t via Jordan, reduce the opening hours at Allenby whenever there’s a Jewish holiday, keep Jerusalem, and prevent the Palestinians from having their own international airport.
            Yeah, I know what idea most Israelis have of a Palestinian state….

          • Elad R March 26, 2013, 1:09 PM

            This is not my plan for the future of the Palestinian state, this is what the parties agreed upon in Oslo and that’s approximately what will form on the ground.

          • Deïr Yassin March 26, 2013, 1:51 PM

            Oh, could you please indicate where in the Oslo Accords the above restrictions are mentionned, particluarly the increasing restrictions during Jewish holidays. I’ve totally missed that part. And funny, I thought the Oslo Accord provided the Palestinians the right to built two airports. I got that wrong, you’re saying ? And you’re saying Jerusalem should stay Israeli according to the Oslo Accord too.
            I don’t know what you’re smoking, but don’t think I’m a fool. I’m not going to waste any more time with you.

          • Oui March 26, 2013, 2:09 PM

            @Elad R

            Put a face on the name? Such ignorant fools.
            A few years ago, I came under attack with the intention of character assassination. Just like the Mossad, no morals and no quality.

          • Deïr Yassin March 26, 2013, 2:21 PM

            @ Oui
            Great catch ! That’s our man :-)
            At least he has some introspection: “Through working at the Hasbara community, I identified a need to perfect my hasbara skills…”
            Indeed, but as the saying goes “putting lipstick on a pig, it still…..”

          • Elad R March 26, 2013, 2:41 PM

            @ Oui & DY
            You guys are stretching it.

          • Elad R March 26, 2013, 3:18 PM

            Not to mention you are wrong.

          • Oui March 26, 2013, 3:24 PM

            Well … it’s Passover so I’ll accept your word.
            Pls don’t behave like an hasbara agent, ok? ;)

            Btw, one can’t google and establish a coincidence as fact.

          • Elad R March 26, 2013, 3:39 PM

            Oui @ DS,
            1. Mr Silverstein has my full name, he can attest that it is not Rubin, It is Rubinstein – as they say in Thailand same same but different. Hope you were enjoying your little Sherlock Holmes adventure
            2. If you wish to discuss substance. Today at the Bakkot checkpoint (in the Jordan valley) a Palestinian was arrested with 4 improvised charges. The charges were detonated by a police explosive specialist.
            Until there is peace the closure and checkpoints are a necessary evil.

          • Elisabeth March 29, 2013, 2:50 AM

            “Through working at the Hasbara community I identified a need to perfect my Hasbara skills, public speaking and massage delivery.”
            But that is a great service! Can the massage be delivered at my home please? I’ve got really stiff shoulders…

  • Samir March 26, 2013, 5:55 AM

    You hit the nail on the head. The contrast between the fabricated stories of “suffering” and the mistreatment of others based on this is at the core of these people and it is mind blowing. As if these Europeans had anything to do with ancient Hebrews.

  • Oui March 26, 2013, 11:35 AM

    Thank you for this meditation during Passover …

    “Kindness to immigrants is not a uniquely Judeo-Christian value. The popular ideal of America as a “Land of Opportunity,” has long summoned Americans to welcome newcomers. Emma Lazarus’s immortal The New Colossus engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty beckons:

    Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

    This principle has not always been embodied – one need think no further than the quotas on Jews in the American Immigration Act of 1924 and the subsequent turning away of MS St. Louis, an ocean liner packed in 1939 with 930 Jewish refugees trying to flee Nazi atrocities.”
    [Source: United Methodist Church – post by Tasi Perkins]

    Extrapolating the election losses in 2008 and 2012, the GOP seems to realize it needs to shed its racist wings. The minorities of African Americans, Latinos and Asia immigrants will soon have a majority voice in some states.

  • Samir March 26, 2013, 3:04 PM

    What these Europeans occupiers don’t realize is that Moses looked more like a Sudani man than a tall and white Ashkenazi Jew. They “celebrate” Moses by denying rights to people who look more like Moses than they do.

    • shmuel March 27, 2013, 12:08 AM

      Samir- thats a rather racist reply dont you think?

      Painting Israelis as white Ashkenazis whearas the reality is 50% Sefardii North African jews who look more like their palestinian brethren than europeans is anti-hasbara at its extreme trying to make zionism a white vs black conflict

      • Deïr Yassin March 27, 2013, 1:19 AM

        Wonder why Eli Yishai, a Mizrahi of Tunisian origin, said about about the African refugees: “Most of them coming here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man”.

        • Davey June 2, 2013, 7:41 PM

          Having achieved success and power, Jews in the West honestly think they are “white” regardless of the claims of “coloreds” to being Jewish. It is power that confers the coveted “whiteness” in its purity, even the purity of arms. “Whiteness” is probably at the heart of the Ashkenazi unconscious. Israel is then a Jewish Raj, a white man’s burden. But, if Jews are white as Yishai says, then how did they originate in the ME?

      • jg June 2, 2013, 7:14 PM

        all this talk about “racist” reply is so confusing to me – honest.
        Why can’t people say what is on their minds, if it doesn’t demonize a group. I don’t understand what you are saying, anyhow. That is what I was trying to say – it gets too removed from anything “racist”, I think.
        I did, recently, though, come across something I found very interesting on several youtube videos, claiming or stating – whichever – that the “real Jews” hail from Africa, many were taken as slaves, mostly from West Africa, by different “empires”, including Arabs and, of course, the Americas.
        Oh, what is this post supposed to be about? oh yes, Israeli Passover out of Africa.
        I would welcome feedback on this topic. I knew for awhile, that the human species originated in Africa, migrating East, etc., over millions of years.
        The videos, and historical information presented, was very fascinating, and started me wondering about a lot of things.

    • jg June 4, 2013, 7:10 PM

      In the youtu videos -” Israelites went West to Africa and Americas “- several Old Testament passages are quoted that describe certain Israleites as having “wooly” hair.

  • Davey March 26, 2013, 8:13 PM

    Richard — the Nakba and the journey out of Egypt are not mirror images for the simple reason that in the latter case Jews are the fleeing people. Arguments by analogy fail because, given Jewish gravitas, there is no symmetry. When will you learn?

    • Eva Smagacz March 30, 2013, 6:20 AM

      Didnt Jews rob their foolish and trustworthy Egyptian neighbours by borrowing their gold and silver pots and cloths and then fleeing?

      • Richard Silverstein March 30, 2013, 3:50 PM

        What nonsense. You’re trying to dredge up anti-Semitism based on a Bible story? Further when the Egyptians enslaved the Jews for generations, you begrudge the theft of gold & silver? Or do you think the Jews should’ve requested compensation for their enslavement from Egypt & gone through official Egyptian channels?

        • Eva Smagacz April 1, 2013, 8:13 AM

          [Comment deleted–off topic]

    • jg June 2, 2013, 7:31 PM

      Did the Jews of Egypt “flee”??
      I always heard that they asked to go, repeatedly, and finally the Pharaoh let them leave.
      I , also, have always heard that Jews originally went to Egypt because the lands were fertile, and they faced lack of food and hardship.. I
      What I have heard, read, is that the Jews were not “enslaved” during 400 years, or under different Pharaohs, but were rather like “indentured (?) servants”… at least, for a time, similarly, to those that first arrived in the Carolinas a few hundred years ago.
      I know I have that word wrong – I will have to check
      Again, when things turned bad for the Israelites, with a leader to guide them, the Jews then left Egypt, to get away from the environmental disasters, and sickness – and their own conditions, to seek a better land.
      Like immigrants today, or Empires, in fact, looking for resources – the O.T. describes this, over and over….

  • BruceT March 26, 2013, 11:30 PM

    What about the Jews who migrated to Palestine? How were they received by the Arabs?

    • Richard Silverstein March 27, 2013, 2:51 AM

      At first, the Arabs were quite supportive of the new immigrants. Much like the early Native Americans in relation to European settlers, they cooperated and worked together with them. But rather quickly, the natives suspected the newcomers motives were far more aggrandizing than at first glance.

    • jg June 3, 2013, 3:24 PM

      The book “The General’s son”, by Milo Peled, a peace activist, is a revealing historical account.
      He also did a presentation on the subject : ” An honest Israeli tells the truth about Israel” on video:

  • free man March 27, 2013, 8:38 AM

    [comment deleted for anti-Semitic tropes]

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