‘Passover, 2002’ is an excellent example of a poem of few words and modest dimensions which nonetheless caused quite a stir.
It isn’t only large masterpieces which surprise or even shock us. Sometimes a short, concise poem makes a biting comment and its sharp vision demands a response – agreement or disagreement, identification or complaint – and expresses even more, and no less than, a bullet-spray of essays, mass demonstrations or protest marches.
In ‘Passover, 2002’, Aharon Shabtai aims at both sides of the barricade: the slavemasters and the enslaved, the occupiers and the occupied, those who are celebrating and those who are suffering. Some people claim: “The whole country belongs to us!” and their enemies answer, “It is ours, ours, ours!” Naturally, this binary opposition of criminal and victim, saint and evildoer, a world view colored by only two tones, black and white, is in no way a precise approximation of the situation; because it deals with extreme injustice which cries out to the heavens, it also is interested in sparing unnecessary verbiage on what may be expressed in just a few tough words. These hotheaded people who are furious with Shabtai’s challenging poem are generally the same people in whose throats the one and only truth reverberates, along with the refusal to accept a more complex and less clear picture of reality, painful and unjust as it is.
The best part of the poem is to be found in its final lines and not in its title. The main principle of the Passover holiday is the sea of freedom in which injustice is drowned, even if the survivors of disasters must limp through rivers of blood on the bumpy road which leads them there. Freedom is the uplifting idea at the root of human desires, and in the end it must be stronger than any one individual, exactly as the poem says: “Passover, however,/ is stronger than you are.” The Jewish Passover celebrates the exodus from Egypt, a personal and national liberation from slavery. Christian Easter celebrates the human and divine repentance that releases one from sin and leads to the beginning of a new life. Both before and after these holidays, the human desire to find other reasons to celebrate remains in force, as does the will to win the freedom to be free. And in the end this desire will win.