"Pesach", Ephraim Moses Lilien, 1901
The picture depicts an elderly Jewish man, who looks thoughtful and a little sad. He is dressed in striped clothes that are covered in barbed wire or thorns. In the background are images of pyramids, statues of pharaohs, and the River Nile. On the right of the image is a rising sun with the word Zion at its centre, casting light on the picture. The text is in Yiddish and French and states the name of the picture, “Pesach,” and the name of the artist E.M. Lilien. On the left-hand side of the postcard appears the name of the publisher – the Libanon (Lebanon) Society in Warsaw.
This is an image of the postcard “Pesach” by the Jewish artist Ephraim Moses Lilien, which was revealed at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901. This picture, along with other illustrations and photographs of the Land of Israel, was prepared in conjunction with Martin Buber. The postcard expresses a desire for salvation from the yoke of exile, as symbolised by the bondage in Egypt. The thorns or barbed wire could also symbolise the bonds of the Jewish people to the Diaspora. Both Lilien and Buber were active in the cultural Zionist movement, and the postcard perhaps signifies their belief that this type of Zionism would bring salvation not only to the Jewish People but to the whole world. The postcard was featured in the journal East and West, a journal of Zionism and culture which argued extensively that Judaism was more than just a religion but was rather an entire culture rooted in the East.
Despite having been printed in 1901, years before the Holocaust, one cannot escape the postcard’s eerie resemblance to a camp inmate of the Holocaust era, complete with both barbed wire and striped clothing.
Connection to Parashat Bo
Parashat Bo sees the last three of the Ten Plagues, followed by the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The main topic is the redemption of the Israelites from slavery and the beginning of their journey to freedom in the Land of Israel. The Exodus of this Parasha is reflected in the postcard which shows Egypt as a symbol of the Diaspora and the bonds that bind the Jews, preventing them from reaching Zion that is depicted as the sun.
In the promises given by God to the Jewish People, it is repeated many times that in Israel the Jewish People would find the potential to be a “a kingdom of priests and a holy people.” In this picture, the new sun dawning reflects the return of the Jewish People to their land and the enormous potential for the future.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this postcard in lessons before Pesach to introduce the first ever Seder Night, as the Jews looked forward to leaving Egypt the following day. The resource can also be used in Bible lessons when teaching the book of Exodus. Jewish Studies and Jewish History teachers can also show this image when discussing Zionism and ask the students about the connection made by the artist between Zionism and the Exodus from Egypt.
Jewish History teachers can also use this image to draw a comparison between the aftermath of the Holocaust and the redemption from slavery in Egypt and the ensuing return to the Land of Israel.
Art teachers can use this postcard to discuss the ability of images to tell a richer story than words.
Describe the picture.
Where is the man standing?
What is the expression on the man’s face?
What other elements are portrayed in the picture?
What word is written inside the sun?
What is the man wearing?
Reading Between the Lines
Who does the man represent?
What do you think the man is thinking?
Why did Lilien decide to extend the rays of the sun across the entire drawing?
What do you think the thorns on the man’s clothing represent?
Lilien drew this image for the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901.
What Zionist message is the artist conveying in this picture?
How do we remember the slavery in Egypt today?
Do you think that there is a connection between the slavery in Egypt and the Holocaust?
Look at the reason that Pharaoh gives for enslaving the Jewish People at the start of the Book of Exodus.
Search the internet for other drawings by Lilien. Do they also have Zionist messages?
Choose your favourite image. Why did you choose it?
Create your own drawing to represent the return to Zion.
What have you included and why?