The Jewish Report Editorial

Reflections on liberation

  • JNF - Tu B'shvat
Pesach, the Jewish festival that celebrates our delivery from slavery in Egypt, is the theme of this week’s issue. Yet freedom is often only the start of the journey - as the Jews left Egypt, their real journey, wandering in the desert and preparing for the Promised Land, began.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Mar 25, 2015

As we contemplate our celebrations of Pesach next week, we all have the opportunity to consider our own personal moments of struggle and liberation.

I imagine you have all had poignant personal experiences of liberation. For me, going abroad in my early twenties, leaving the womb and heading for the unknown, was so liberating and exciting. But much of it felt like a wandering in the desert. I never quite felt at home anywhere; I was always the outsider - the immigrant. When I finally returned to South Africa after 18 years, it was an entry into the Promised Land of home, which meant belonging, familiarity and acceptance.

In this issue, we report on some interesting stories about struggles for freedom. I interviewed a remarkable 93-year-old man, Major Leonard Berney who, as part of the British army’s 11th Armoured Division, was a liberator of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

After the war, a total of 250 000 Jews remained interned in Allied-occupied Europe, waiting for permission to start their journey to freedom in the Western world and Israel. The Jews who went into the Diaspora were absorbed into established, democratic, and peaceful societies and their dreams of freedom and prosperity were, for the most part, easily realised.

However the majority of these displaced Jews had to wait until the British gave Palestine independence and the State of Israel was formed in 1948, to get to their Land of Milk and Honey.

And, although Israeli society has prospered, turning desert into fertile farmland and its seeds of innovation have brought the world significant contributions, Israel’s walk to freedom is far from over.

One has only to read about last week’s elections (<<page x>>) to see that Israel has woken to a post-election dawn dotted with perilous obstacles: unresolved conflict on its borders; a slightly miffed global ally in the form of the US; economic pressures and ongoing concerns over a nuclear Iran. Israel may now very well face an increasingly hostile world of International Criminal Court investigations and unwanted economic sanctions.

As South African Jews, we are familiar with the experience of being citizens of a pariah state. In addition, the freedom that democracy handed us in 1994, has not meant we have truly liberated ourselves from racism.

In this issue we report on students at the University of Cape Town who believe that the design of apartheid, oppression and colonialism, created a normative structure of society that was white and which democracy has not been able to remove. The resulting protests, where the escalating Rhodes Must Fall campaign to “rid the university of old vestiges of white supremacy”, has even led to the plastering of Nazi posters on the campus.(<<page x>>

In the last chapter of his book “Toward a Meaningful Life - the Wisdom of the Rebbe”, adapted by Simon Jacobson, the Rebbe talks about redemption or “reaching the light” - through virtuous acts and spiritual awareness - as the ultimate goal of a meaningful life.

“Redemption is G-d telling us that the reason for which He created the universe will indeed be realised-that goodness will prevail and that our lives can be meaningful.”

For the Rebbe, redemption is defined as freedom - freedom from the boundaries that confine the human spirit.

“To be redeemed means to be freed from a tyrannical regime; to be freed from a dangerous habit or an abusive situation; to be freed from the fear within ourselves and the confusion that clouds our vision.”

Our front page artwork alludes to the notion that our fight for freedom has still not ended. Artist Danielle Rovetti depicts this quest for freedom - past, present and future - for modern Jews, their arms outstretched, walking through the parted Red Sea, taking the same route as the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt. It also conveys a message of freedom within ourselves, she says.

Whatever redemption we might be seeking - whether at a systemic level - from racism or from ongoing wars on the borders of Israel, or at a personal level - from a state of mind, an oppressive relationship or a difficult context, the great gift of the human spirit is that we never stop striving for it.



1 Comment

  1. 1 Lisa Schewitz 26 Mar
    An excellent article that really sewed together the events happening around us with the Pesach theme of freedom in a very articulate way. 


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