Where Were You for the Seger?

'Seger,' the Hebrew word for the closure that the army imposes on Palestinian areas around Jewish festivals, is the most frequent Palestinian holiday.

The drive to Jerusalem on Route 443 on Passover eve was surprisingly quick. Though taking Route 1 to the capital from central Israel right before the holiday means sitting in traffic, there were no jams on the road that goes through the territories.

Five years ago, on this very road - how terrifying the memory - a large rock was hurled at the car window of the woman who drove me to Jerusalem this week. But this time, we never feared for a moment. When we have seder night, the Palestinians have seger night - and not just on Passover, either.

Seger, the Hebrew word for the closure that the army imposes on Palestinian areas around Jewish festivals, is the most frequent Palestinian holiday. The West Bank celebrates seger night on Independence Day, Hanukkah, Purim and the fall holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot - which take up almost an entire month. And Gazans have been celebrating the intermediate days of Passover for several years.

The seder must take place, and order, the literal meaning of the word "seder," must be maintained. In militarese, that translates into closure, turning seder into seger.

It was apparently to impose some order that God chose us from among all peoples, and exalted us above all tongues, and loved us more than our neighbors. And as we were sitting there around the seder table, thanking God for loving us so much, and in his honor tormenting ourselves - for the duration of one meal at least - by eating dry matza instead of boutique-bakery breads (or even, God deliver us, government-subsidized bread), they, the ones God didn't choose and didn't exalt above all tongues, can take their revenge on him by gorging on leavened food and legumes (even the Ashkenazim among them), and go so far as complain that these basic commodities are the staples of their diet.

God, we are told, singled us out. In elementary school and in my Hebrew literature and Jewish philosophy courses, my teachers all taught me that this choice had no racist significance because God didn't choose us in order to pamper us, but to give us tough jobs to do for him. Yosef Haim Brenner's "Ata Behartanu" ("You Have Chosen Us") relates to the task of the early Jewish pioneers in Palestine, while Natan Alterman gave the concept a bloodcurdling meaning in a poem he wrote when news of the horrors of the Holocaust began leaking out in 1942: "You have chosen us from among all children / to be killed as you sit on your throne / and you gather up our blood in jars / because no one would do it but you alone."

Those children (and their parents) who had the good fortune not to be chosen by God to die in the gas chambers established a new country here and forgot the price of being chosen - the price that was paid by those who were not so lucky as to escape from God's love, a love so strong that he killed 6 million of them. The amnesia also afflicted their offspring, so that they decided God had chosen them to rule over another nation, to uproot its vineyards, to demolish its homes, to build settlements in its territories and to live inside its neighborhoods.

Seder night was very pleasant. I love my family and that of my daughter-in-law. The food was wonderful. For the kids' sake, we even read a bit of the Haggadah. But we did not sing "Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem," simply out of fear that the wish might come true.