I used to know what Passover was for. Just like I used to know what Israel was for.
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Passover was supposed to be a kind of thanksgiving festival about freedom and the renewal of Spring, about leaving behind bad habits and useless baggage, about applying the kinds of lessons you'd expect to learn by recalling that you'd once been a slave yourself.
Israel was supposed to be a safe haven, a place of freedom, a seat of conscience, a bearer of a message of equality and liberation.
It's hard to feel grateful when you're disheartened. It's hard to see straight and celebrate when you're this sad.
It's that kind of Passover in Israel this year. After months of bloodshed and anxiety in the streets – months of acts of vengeance and tides of hatred and no solid basis of hope for better – this week in Jerusalem, buses exploded into fireballs and new lives were shattered.
In the south, the army found a long, deep tunnel from Gaza to Israel. Had it gone undiscovered, the tunnel could have meant platoons of Hamas gunmen invading kibbutzim and moshavim. It almost certainly means that more tunnels like this already exist, undetected.
We can all feel it – the signs of escalation which may point to war.
There was a time in my life when I believed that Judaism, so horribly disfigured, so nearly annihilated by the Nazi Holocaust, would be saved by what Israel is and does. And in many ways that was once true.
In recent years, though, much of that belief has gone. Now, if anything, I've come to believe that Judaism will be saved in spite of what Israel is and does.
It no longer makes sense to me that in many ways, Passover effectively enslaves and sidelines women – who in many if not most Jewish households shoulder an inordinate burden of the observance.
I no longer hold any faith in the men who run this place, and who run the religion racket here in such a way as to alienate the rest of us. I do place my full faith, however, in a resource which has kept the Jewish people going for thousands of years:
Dictionary says: Badass – Of formidable strength or skill. Also – Ready to cause or get into trouble. Also – cool, awesome. (U.S. youth slang, positive connotation, vulgar). A person considered impressive due to extreme attitudes, behavior or appearance.
It's happened before in Jewish history. Just look at the traditional Passover Haggadah – not what's there, but what's pointedly missing: Mention of the five badass women whose boldness and troublemaking made possible the redemption from slavery, the Exodus, and the very founding of the Jewish people.
All five, the midwives Puah and Shifra, Moses' mother Yocheved, his sister, the prophetess Miriam, and Bitya, daughter of the Pharoah, defied the direct order of the all-powerful Pharoah, and refused to drown Hebrew newborn boys in the Nile. Women revolutionaries who stood up to the ultimate authority.
Badass women, it should be pointed out, can do anything they set their minds to.
I know badass women. I am married to one. She and our daughters, each in her own way, is clearly, and in the best sense, badass.
My rabbi is one. Many of my colleagues are badass women. As are, in infinite variety, many of my close relatives and friends. I was raised by badass women, among them one grandmother who was a Yiddish anarchist, another who was a shtetl feminist, and a favorite aunt who survived to thrive.
They came to mind last week, when Bernie Sanders' campaign hired and effectively fired a colleague and friend, Simone Zimmerman, as liaison to the American Jewish community. She was suspended for, let us say, being too starkly candid about Israel for American electoral politics.
Just wait. It's only a matter of time. To borrow from Israeli idiom, those who didn't want Simone Zimmerman as liaison to the Jewish community, will eventually get her as a central leader of the community.
After the suspension, I started making a list of badass women I know and admire. I got to 139 names before I quit – not disheartened by the realization that I could have gone way further, but exhilarated by it.
As I looked at the magnificent talent and might and imagination on that list, it struck me that Judaism, under attack these days from every flank and from within, stands every chance of surviving all the damage which frozen-thinking male rabbis, and testosterone-poisoned Israeli politicians, and that crabby, petty, passive-aggressive bullying male American Jewish leaders, can cause it.
It struck me that it will be badass women who will keep the flame alive until all this terrible era of ours begins, like the 10 plagues, to run its course.
We're not nearly there yet. The guys in my generation and the one after are still holding too tight to the reins. Somewhere inside, though, they sense what everybody does, whether they cop to it or not:
Women know more. They know more because of what biology forces them to go through, and what men force them to go through, just to be themselves. They know more about life than we do. They definitely know more about us than we do.
Badass women have heart and spine, solid stance and vision.They endure more than we do. Because of all of it. And because of all of us.
So this Passover, I'm adding one line to the Haggadah mix. Right after "Vehi She'amda":
"Vehi She'amda Bifnei Paro: Puah. Shifra. Yoheved. Miriam. Bitya."
Badass women may not save Israel. At this point, maybe only God can do that.
But I believe that badass women definitely can be the salvation of Judaism. And will be.