Anthony Lewis: I feel most Jewish leading the Passover seder

When I read today about the death of former Times reporter and columnist Anthony Lewis, I remembered something he told me in an interview for the Forward published Dec. 14, 2001 (sorry, not available online):

Given his preoccupation with civil liberties, it should come as no surprise that Mr. Lewis says he feels most Jewish when leading the Passover seder. However, it turns out, his fondness for holiday has more to do with getting the chance to celebrate with family and friends. Besides, he says, now that he no longer attends synagogue, it’s the one day a year that he gets to use his Hebrew.

For those who take an interest in such things, Lewis grew up in a kosher home in New York City and received private religious lessons from a student affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary. His family belonged to the Jewish Center, a Modern Orthodox shul on the Upper West Side.

Lewis was best known for his writing on the Supreme Court and civil liberties in the United States. But he also wasn’t shy about critcizing Israeli policies that he believed undermined the peace process.

In a not atypical jibe, David Bar-Ilan, former Jerusalem Post editor and spokesman for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once referred to Mr. Lewis as a "PLO booster for decades, a writer who yields to no one as an Arafat groupie."

"I resent that," Mr. Lewis said, when asked about such criticisms. The founding of a Jewish state, he explains, was a "landmark" event in his life.

"People should understand a very simple thing," he adds. "My view on the necessity of peace for Israel is based on my belief that that’s the only guarantee of Israel’s survival and good health and progress. I can’t understand why anybody who likes Israel wants Israel to live as it’s living now. That’s crazy."

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