Passover, the Pandemic, and Globalization by Steve Kramer
Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers, to paraphrase the Haggadah? This year, because of the pandemic, we must celebrate it alone, apart from our friends or family. But the impact of the pandemic has caused a revolution in how we relate to each other: our main conduit is now the Internet, not personal contact. This year, our Seder will be attended by 15 others on Zoom. It won’t be perfect, there will be glitches, but Michal and I won’t be sitting at the table alone. (Those of you who are alone can make good use of the many websites offering special songs, prayers and more.)
The pandemic has brought other, all-encompassing changes. Probably most significant is the apparent demise of globalization, which has been so trendy over the last generation. Right now, most borders worldwide are extremely well guarded, with stringent regulations for non-citizens in effect. All but forgotten (I hope) are the calls for “open” borders, which would ultimately lead to the demise of nations and some sort of global government. If we critically look at the prime example of globalization, the United Nations (which many hope will lead to a “One World” system), one shudders to imagine how a real global government could function.
First of all, it would be authoritarian, because most of Earth’s citizens live under authoritarian governments and their leaders would cling militantly to power. These governments outnumber the democracies, making the UN a collection of commissions and sub-organizations that are incredibly bureaucratic. Many are hypocritical as well, such as the Human Rights Council, whose main function is condemning Israel, or the UNRWA (Palestinian refugee relief organization) which prolongs its existence by increasing the number of “refugees” under its purview year by year, with no thought of eliminating its reason to exist.
A stepchild of the UN, the European Union, has just lost one of its principal members. Britain was the first to recognize that it lost more than it gained by its EU membership. The British voters chose to break out (Brexit) from the EU, the first one of its member states to do so. They voted for Britain first! Britain will probably not be alone.
Also recognizing the value of self-reliance is the US, led by its unconventional (to say the least) President Trump. He ran on a platform of America First, which proved to be not only popular but deeply ingrained in his supporters. Neither the US nor Britain expect to go it alone, but their massive reliance on other countries for essentials will dwindle.
The onset of this Coronavirus pandemic is showing numerous countries the necessity of putting its citizens first. Both Italy and Spain, the worst EU victims of the pandemic, quickly realized that their erstwhile partners have left them in the lurch, turning inward to protect their own citizens first. This is not surprising, because after all, how much solidarity do the richer EU countries have with the poorer ones, on the northern ones with the southern ones, or the eastern ones with the western ones?
The US is slowly coming to realize its vulnerability to its biggest competitor, China, which is competing with it to be the world’s greatest superpower. Under the sway of globalization, successive US governments watched, and even encouraged, the shipping of its factories offshore to China, with the subsequent emergence of the Rust Belt in its interior. This fact didn’t worry the East and West Coast Americans, whose solidarity with the citizens living in “flyover country” was practically nonexistent. Nor were any Americans unhappy about saving money on their credit-based purchases of just about everything “made in China,” sold by discount chains and Internet behemoths as Main Streets feel into disrepair.
Undoubtedly many things will change as a result of the pandemic, which may linger. Medicines, minerals, specialized equipment, mundane manufacturing – most of these have been outsourced to China. The production of all of these and more will be ramped up in the US because of the negative consequences of reliance on China, which acts more and more like an enemy instead of a trading partner. Smaller countries, such as Israel, will also pay more attention to whom they trade with, favoring their allies.
Shmuel Trigano, a Jewish-French-Israeli sociologist and philosopher says, “I see coronavirus as a disease that is rooted in globalization and will also destroy globalization. It is the end of globalization. When it comes to government, we are seeing an anti-global phenomenon in which all the [EU] countries are reverting to nation-states, to borders, to police rule, to closures.
“The peoples are barricading themselves behind borders. Every country is keeping its resources to itself. These are signs of a retreat from globalization. We saw that the weakening of the nation-state led to the neglect of assistance and that it is not possible to depend on a global body. Practically speaking, the national frameworks are the ones that are active.
“The collective identity of each people is strengthening. Corona [virus] means the return of nations and states, a return to the national structure and an actual living border. There is meaning to this, an enormous message from the heavens. It’s possible that we thought that we could override every border in nature, and all of a sudden humanity is being held to account and returned to our little stature. I think that the 21st century begins now. We’ve entered a new era.”
Trigano’s idea of a ‘heavenly message’ is intriguing. It reminds me of the Tower of Babel, which God destroyed because mankind thought they could reach the heavens. God not only destroyed the Tower, he separated the nations by giving them each a distinctive language, a de-globalization of sorts. As Trigano says, “If coronavirus has a spiritual or symbolic aspect, it is the idea that there is a limit to what humans can rule over.”
Jews have celebrated Passover since the Exodus from Egypt in the 13th century BCE (see www.biblicalarchaeology.org). It’s a reminder of our connection to the God of Israel, who brought us out of Egyptian bondage and made us a people and a nation. The Seder is the most popular Jewish “event” in Israel and probably worldwide. This year we celebrate our independence and roots in a unique way, unconnected to our brothers and sisters except by electronic means. We hope it’s a unique event, in every meaning of the word.
Michal and I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday!