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Seasons of Reinterpretation

How a radical demonstration 32 years ago changed the culture of Passover

April 20, 2000 | 8:00 pm

The world has an odd habit, alert readers have noticed, of exploding in springtime, smack in the middle of the Season of our Liberation. Sometimes these explosions disrupt those carefully laid Passover plans in the most annoying way. At other times, Passover just gains new meaning.

It was this time last year, for instance, that Kosovo went up in flames. NATO had begun bombing the Serbian province in early April, to stop Serb outrages against ethnic Albanians. The bombings provoked worse outrages: mass expulsions, tearing at the West's conscience. Yet reactions from Washington were appallingly slow. At the time it seemed a case of blindness or worse. It turned out the problem was partly bad timing: Too many key Washington players had left town for Passover.

This year, of course, the action was right there in Washington, where the International Monetary Fund and World Bank were meeting under near-military siege conditions. Thousands of left-wing activists had gathered to protest the inequities of the global economy. The D.C. police responded with massive force, determined to ensure the bankers' meetings started and ended on schedule. Besides those who had countries to run, many of the global economy's key leaders -- World Bank President James Wolfenson, IMF Deputy Director Stanley Fischer, U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and others -- had to get home for the seder.

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