In reciting “The Four Questions” this Passover, it felt like we should have asked one more: Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers? As my wife and I conducted our own seder for two and video-chatted with family and friends during the collective COVID-19 quarantine, there was a heaviness and strangeness to this year’s holiday. In an instant, the virus had paused everyone’s lives and had forced us all to spend Passover apart. At the beginning of 2020, no one in the United States, Israel or Europe could truly have anticipated the devastation of the novel coronavirus, and the current situation of self-isolation and quarantine.
For most of us, this Passover was the first time that we had to truly put our lives on hold because of a cataclysmic, global event. At the time of this writing, the virus has killed nearly 120,000 people and devastated the world economy. Nevertheless, for many people the virus will likely prove to be nothing more than a major inconvenience of missed family events and forced isolation. Life, eventually, will return to “normal,” and Passover 2020/5780 will become a fleeting moment. But for the collective memory of the Jewish people, this Passover will serve as an important reminder of the many previous Passovers that have been interrupted by global events beyond our control.
During conversations with friends and family in the days leading up to Passover and in re-reading the Haggadah, I kept thinking of one word and one idea: preparedness. Preparedness not only in physical possessions and physical fitness, but also mental fortitude. The Jews in ancient Egypt were perhaps not prepared to flee in terms of their earthly possessions, but they were mentally ready to immediately change their lives. Matzah is the direct representation of this, as there was no time for the bread to rise.
Such moments have happened with alarming frequency throughout the history of the Jewish people. From the fall of the Second Temple to the Spanish Inquisition to Soviet pogroms to the Holocaust in Europe, the story of the Jewish Diaspora has been one that calls for haste. To wait is to perish.
Thus, this Passover was an opportunity to verify the contents of my physical and mental “go bags.” Physically, I was ready. My survivalist upbringing and subsequent military training have provided me with a baseline level of physical preparedness. I felt confident that I could take care of myself and others, no matter what COVID-19 or subsequent emergencies would bring.
Mental preparedness equal to that of the Passover exodus, however, was another story. Many Diaspora Jews, including myself, live incredibly comfortable lives. Would we, like the Jews of other eras, be willing to leave at a moment’s notice when the incurable virus of anti-Semitism once again began ravaging the world that we knew?
Even though COVID-19 does not discriminate in its destruction, the Anti-Defamation League has been tracking all of the instances in which the pandemic has been blamed on either the Jews or the State of Israel. Furthermore, the way COVID-19 has morphed from an isolated disease to a global pandemic mirrors the way that anti-Semitism can quickly metastasize into a sickness that consumes great portions of the world. Just as there were warning signs in Europe throughout the 1930s, most European Jews did not believe that they would be affected by these “isolated” anti-Semitic events. For many, the scourge of anti-Semitism wasn’t taken seriously until their businesses were closed, and they found themselves living in ghettos or being sent to the camps.
As COVID-19 has seemingly created a “new normal” that did not exist only a few weeks ago, I think that knowing and recognizing when anti-Semitism has become intolerable will be of key importance in ensuring that Jewish people do not wake up to that danger only once it’s too late.
Unlike the Jews who have nowhere to go, the Jewish people of the modern world are unbelievably fortunate to have that ultimate “go bag”: the Jewish State of Israel. For Diaspora Jews, Israel is the insurance policy. No matter where they are born, the fact that Israel is there allows them to know that they will not be like the past Jewish victims of the Inquisition, the pogroms or the Holocaust. Because Israel exists, they know that they will be safe.
Having been blessed to be born an American citizen, and having grown up in the freest and most philo-Semitic country in the history of the world, I am confident such questions about anti-Semitism, at least in the United States, will remain nothing more than thought experiments. But in returning to the Passover story during COVID-19, the importance of being prepared and always having someplace to go when things are dire seems all the more relevant to consider this year. Just as my “go bag” remains packed, ready in case of emergency, Israel stands as the insurance policy for whenever the virus of anti-Semitism once again consumes the world.
Micah Quinney Jones, an attorney, a U.S. Army veteran and a pro-Israel advocate, is a contributing adjunct at The MirYam Institute. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Service. He served more than five years as a military intelligence branch detail infantry officer in the army and was honorably discharged as a captain in 2016. He deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2014-15 as part of the 82nd Airborne Division.