From whence my nostalgia for the fourth matzo? A relic of the 1980s, the fourth matzo was added to the already crowded Seder plate as an expression of solidarity with oppressed Jews in the Soviet Union.
In most homes, when the ’80s ended and Glasnost took off, the fourth matzo went the way of Betamax, big hair and the Berlin Wall. But some families continued the tradition as a way to be mindful of all people — Jews and non-Jews alike, anywhere in the world — who were not yet free.
This year, as I prepare to celebrate Hag Hamatzot, the Feast of Unleavened Bread — the very symbol of freedom in the Passover story — in Eretz Israel, I can’t help but think about all the ways in which, particularly here, there is still so much freedom that eludes so many people.
Freedom is not an absolute value; we expect our government to place limits on certain freedoms in order to protect other collective and individual human rights. This is why my freedom of speech doesn’t entitle me to slander another person, and why my freedom of movement doesn’t allow me to drive my car in reverse on a highway. Legitimate restraints on our freedoms must be proportionate, limited in scope and, perhaps most important of all, enforced equally across the population.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Seder is how it encourages participants to ask questions. Asking questions is a form of freedom: freedom of expression and debate. But in today’s Israel, this freedom is not guaranteed. Activists who protest the government’s discriminatory planning policies in the Negev are called in for informal ” “chats“ with the Shin Bet — not because the Shin Bet suspects the activists of engaging in illegal activity, but because of the cause the activists have chosen to support. In response to a recent petition, the Shin Bet stated that protests against the Prawer Plan (the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev) have been classified as subversive nationalist activity.
When a government decides which causes are legitimate and which are not, it restricts our freedom of speech. And when these decisions are consistently based on ethnic, religious or national bases, the wrongness of the restrictions is revealed for all to see. Apparently, protesting the forced urbanization of Bedouin is subversive, but protesting the rising price of cottage cheese (or matzo) is not.
Or consider another nonviolent form of protest — a boycott. Around the world, the debate on the question of boycotting goods from Israel or the occupied territories is fierce, with passionate and well-intentioned arguments on all sides. But inside Israel, a recently enacted law imposes legal consequences on those who boycott certain things. We can still boycott a soccer team, a company or even the city of Tel Aviv. Just not the State of Israel, or “areas under its control.”
And if these violations of the freedom of speech are allowed to occur, imagine the implications on other freedoms — the freedom of movement and livelihood, the freedom to live in safety and, of course, the most basic freedom of all: freedom from bondage. In Holot, the largest facility of its kind currently holds thousands of African refugees whose only crime was trying to save their own lives and having the incredulity to seek asylum in Israel. Unwilling or unable to deport these people, the government has found its preferred solution: mass incarceration of men, women and children for indefinite periods of time.
This year, I am going to ask my family to reintroduce the fourth matzo — a request that I am sure will provoke a heated response. But the discussions that we will hold as a result will exemplify the essence of the freedom that we celebrate on Passover, a freedom we have the duty to preserve.
Marc Grey is the international press liaison at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.