Is Passover a Legacy Moment in Jewish History? Professor Ken Stein Teaching his Arab-Israeli Conflict Course from Home, March 24, 2020.

Ken Stein, Emory University, Center for Israel Education

What are turning points or legacy moments in history? That was the focus of my zoom class at Emory for 80 students in late March when we touched on whether the June 1967 War was a turning point or legacy moment in Israeli, Jewish and Middle Eastern histories?  Every day, there are events, occurrences, and some turning points, and even fewer of these become legacy moments. Yesterday’s context is today’s new normal. The 1967 War was judged a legacy moment because it dramatically altered all three histories, and at the same time remains “unfinished.” 

At this moment, what we are experiencing world-wide is a new normal. If we are in the middle of the occurrence, how do we know if it is a turning point, or beyond that, a legacy moment? Here are some criteria to consider if this is a legacy moment:  Have we ever seen this before in either depth or scope? Is the duration and lasting impact simply impossible to know?  I suspect that tomorrow’s historians, artists, and writers will have a field day praising those that ran headlong into the crisis to save their fellow man, while others will want to punish demonstrated incompetents with accusations of negligence if not involuntary manslaughter! 

These undergraduates on zoom stretched from Singapore to NYC.  They know that they are in the midst of a turning point, if not a legacy moment in history. In deciding where the June War fit, I asked the students to choose core turning points in world history. They were given fifteen choices, each  omitted their own birth dates, the assassinations of Lincoln, King, the Kennedys, Sadat and Rabin.  Also not making the list were Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the October 1973 War, or the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling. What made the list of their legacy moments? The American Revolution, invention of electricity, the outbreak of WWI, and 9.11. Where will they place Covid-19? 

So, is Passover an occurrence, turning point, or legacy moment in Jewish history? Is it as consequential as Abraham, Sinai, the expulsion, surviving in the diaspora, the birth of a particularly Jewish leader, Zionism, the holocaust, Israel’s establishment, Entebbe, or the June 1967 War?  If Jews had not left Egypt who or where would they be?