UNITED NATIONS (JTA) — As Jews everywhere celebrate Passover, I find it fitting to share a timely lesson for Israel in navigating the often uncharted waters of the United Nations. It is an insight I shared at this year’s U.N. model seder, where dozens of ambassadors joined with Israel to rejoice in the liberation of the Jewish people.
That insight is the Passover story’s lesson of perseverance.
The Hebrew word “seder” translates as “order,” referring to the unique method of articulating the Passover narrative. We retell the Passover story in this special way so that we can appreciate, step by step, the uphill battle required for our emancipation.
The story centers on the courage of Moses and Aaron, who with the help of God approach the evil Pharaoh and insist “Let my people go.” Pharaoh refuses, and the ancient Egyptians are hit with a destructive plague, causing Pharaoh to reconsider and capitulate. This pattern repeats itself nine times, with Pharaoh changing his mind and refusing to free the Israelites as soon as the plague has ended.
Throughout the process, Moses has a choice. He can surrender and endure the consequences of failing to liberate generations of Jews from slavery, or he can persevere, investing his faith in a better future for all of Israel.
Moses chooses to persevere. When he reaches the Sea of Reeds, with countless hopeful freedom seekers and Pharaoh’s ruthless armies behind him, Moses relies on his perseverance and faith in God, and leads the Israelites through the parted sea on their way to the Promised Land of Israel.
The Israelites’ journey is not easy. It requires struggle, sacrifice and perseverance to reach the Holy Land. Revisiting that journey – in the special order and detail it occurred – reminds us that the pathway toward freedom and truth can often be challenging. There will be setbacks, but they must never keep us from fighting the moral fight and standing up for what is right and true.
Perseverance is part of the Jewish character. It has often been the pattern of Jewish history to endure years of hardship, hostility and even near-extinction before achieving the ultimate triumphs. As Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, I find it is precisely the setbacks we face that provide the strongest motivation to persevere.
Take Jerusalem, for example: Simply stating the age-old truth that Jerusalem is, has been and always will be the capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people has met continuous hostility on the world stage. Our efforts on behalf of Jerusalem reflect that same quintessential struggle for freedom, morality and truth.
In December 2016, something unprecedented happened: The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2334, which states that Israel’s presence in parts of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, is a “flagrant violation of international law.” It was one of the lowest moments for Israel at the United Nations and an appalling setback.
Last December, we sprung back. President Donald Trump made a historic declaration, announcing the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. His unabashed statement of fact constituted a win for Israel.
What followed was a series of setbacks and victories. The Security Council drafted a hateful and falsifying resolution that sought to rewrite history — a setback. The United States vetoed the Security Council’s resolution – another win. Another version of the resolution was soon adopted by the U.N. General Assembly – another setback.
Finally, after a few months, the United States, followed by Guatemala, decided officially to move its embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, its rightful home. That outcome was the most important win of all.
Sometimes at the United Nations, Israel’s progress may seem incremental – that our efforts and arguments result in little change. What I have learned during my time at the world body, however, is that the small steps of a momentous effort are exactly the steps guaranteed to bring about a brighter future. Every day at the United Nations, I meet with countries that may speak out against us in public, or may not even have diplomatic relations with us. But in private they admire us, want to learn from us, and value us and our existence. Embracing those small steps is the key to perseverance.
At Passover seders across the world, Jews will sing the humbling words of “Dayenu,” expressing our gratitude for each and every step toward progress. Whether on the shores of the Sea of Reeds, at the Western Wall in our capital, Jerusalem, at Independence Hall in celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday or at the podium of the General Assembly, every setback we encounter marks a new opportunity to prevail.
(Danny Danon is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.)