Marvin Chinitz had an idea, a big idea. In fact, it might even be called an audacious idea, although, in a sense, it takes us back to basics about Passover, perhaps the most celebrated and welcomed of the annual cycle of Jewish holidays.
His central point, which motivated this ambitious undertaking, is that a key element of the Passover story, told at millions of tables around the world, has too often gone missing, or, at best, been relegated to footnote status.
The plan, he reminds us, was not just for Moses, hearing the voice of God, to travel to Egypt and persuade the ruling pharaoh to let the Jews, slaves in the Egyptian realm, go, as if they would then be free to choose their final destinations. Rather, it was to liberate them, forge a nation, provide the spiritual wherewithal, and lead them to the Promised Land — to Israel, that is.
In other words, Dr. Chinitz asserts, to remove, downplay, or ignore Israel in the Passover story is to fundamentally distort the story itself.
Ah, but some might say in our highly agitated world, maybe his real goal is nothing more than to create some positive political points for Israel, at a time when the Jewish state might need it.
Sure, if that’s a collateral benefit of this Haggadah, why not? But, again, that’s not his motivation, which is to restore a central truth to an age-old tradition and practice.
Put differently, there are three legs to Jewish identity — a land, a faith, and a people. Jews are free, of course, to discuss and debate the interpretation they attach to each, but the foundation is the foundation. Removing any of the three, as if it were an a la carte menu, disfigures irredeemably the Jewish experience.
By all means, Dr. Chinitz argues in this text, have a vigorous discussion about Israel today, a development he would applaud and seek to encourage with his valuable information and questions. But, most of all, have the discussion.
And, he is saying, try to ensure the discussion is not just about a moment in time, with a particular coalition in power in Jerusalem, as if everything depended on one’s reaction to that fact. Moments in time are, by definition, fleeting. Zion endures.
No, keep the larger picture in mind. Remember the link to the land from time immemorial. Remember the journey Moses led. Remember the religious and metaphysical tie to Jerusalem. Remember the forced exile from 70 c.e. Remember the 1,858 years of Jewish yearning, dreaming, and praying for return. Remember the extraordinary moment in 1948 when, miracle of miracles, Jews once again gained sovereignty in their ancestral land.
And remember that, in the lifetimes of many readers of this new Haggadah, other modern-day exoduses occurred, which bear retelling, and which, yes, have Israel at the center as well.
There was the exodus of well over one million Jews from the evil pharaohs of the Soviet regime. Those Jews began slowly arriving in Israel in the late 1960s and continued through the 1990s, though not without countless minefields to cross in getting permission to leave, and then the migration started again after Russia launched its brutal war against Ukraine in 2022.
Fortunately, their actual journey took a lot less than 40 years, thanks to Israel’s remarkable efforts to facilitate their journey and prepare for their arrival.
And the ancient Jewish community in Ethiopia fervently wished to be transplanted to Israel, which became a reality starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present day. The story of how Israel helped them overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to leave Ethiopia behind, risk hunger, kidnapping, and death along their trek, is nothing short of breathtaking, inspiring, and a testament both to Jewish tenacity and Israeli determination.
Dr. Chinitz wants Jews celebrating Passover to include this deeper understanding of Israel, of Zionism, of Zion. He is right. And he is to be commended for devoting years of his life to blending the traditional text of the Haggadah with this invaluable addition — and precision.
Will his Haggadah reach the popular fame of the legendary Maxwell House version? Only time will tell, of course, but on its merits, it absolutely should.
David Harris, CEO, American Jewish Committee, 1990–2022