How Passover Transformed the American Jewish Consciousness

April 6 2020

In 1865, Passover began on the evening of April 10, the day after the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox courthouse. The conjunction of the military defeat of slavery with the Jewish holiday celebrating freedom from slavery struck many U.S. Jews as significant that year. Darcy Fryer sees in their reactions an emerging new appreciation of the connection between Judaism and the American project of liberty:

The Civil War years . . . brought startling new measures of acceptance, including the induction of the first four Jewish military chaplains in American history: two hospital chaplains and two regimental chaplains elected to serve mixed Jewish and Christian units, where they were valued for their sensitivity to immigrant soldiers’ needs and their ability to preach in German. Perhaps a sense of being more fully incorporated into American society paved the way for American Jews to recognize the connection embodied in the African-American spiritual “Go Down, Moses”—a song that was published and popularized during the war, after being used as a rallying cry by black soldiers.

Rabbi Max Lilienthal of Cincinnati, [a leading Reform clergyman], asked some piercing questions in a sermon he preached that year on the Sabbath that fell during the holidays: “We have in four years advanced intellectually, morally, and politically more than other nations will in centuries to come. Four years ago, how many of us were abolitionists? How many of us dreamt of the possibility that this sacred soil of liberty should be cleansed from the scourge of slavery? How many of us had moral courage enough to think that this great stain could be or should be removed from the brilliant escutcheon of the American people?”

Lilienthal toasted the intellectual and moral growth of his community and of the whole American people—including President Abraham Lincoln, who had not argued for the outright abolition of slavery at the beginning of the Civil War, and whom Lilienthal had nonetheless deemed excessively radical in 1861. But a world had turned, and there the country was in 1865, dizzy with moral transformation.

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More about: American Civil War, American Jewish History, American Judaism, Jews in the military, Passover

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship