Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is member of SPME
Once again, during this year’s seders, we will celebrate our joyous holiday of liberation with heavy hearts. Even as we revel in our freedom as Jews in the modern world, our brothers and sisters in Israel are in pain. This year, in particular, as we mark the one-year yahrzheit of the Netanya Seder Massacre, when 29 people ranging in age from 25-years-old to 92-years-old were brutally murdered, we must rise to the challenge to reclaim our symbols, to remember our losses, to reaffirm our commitment to Israel, to the Jewish people, and to a true peace.
In the 29 months since the Palestinians turned away from negotiations toward violence, too many have died, too many have been injured, on both sides. And too many seders will have empty chairs -missing husbands, fathers, brothers, sons; missing wives, mothers, sisters, daughters.
The power of the seder -which remains one of the most popular of Jewish ceremonies -comes from its ritualization of memory. It is a most primal, most sensual, most literal, of services. The seder plate -with its representations of the mortar used in building, the charoset, and of the tears shed by the slaves, the salt water -helps us visualize the trauma of slavery.
The physical acts of reclining, of eating special foods, of standing to greet Elijah the prophet, help us feel the joy of Yetziat Mitzrayim, of leaving Egypt. And, in an affirmation of the importance of peoplehood, we mark this special moment not as individuals but as a community.
In that spirit, we cannot proceed with business as usual during these difficult times. We must improvise a new ritual that marks our present pain, that illustrates our vital connection with Israel and with Israelis today. Let each of us, as we gather at our seders, intrude on our own celebrations by leaving one setting untouched, by having one empty chair at our table.
Let us take a moment to reflect on our losses from these terrible two-and-a-half years. And as we do that, let us not just remember the dead as hundreds of nameless and faceless people, but let us personalize them. Let us take the time to find out the name of one victim of the current conflict, one Jew who cannot celebrate this year’s holiday, one family in mourning.
Let us call out the name of Benny Avraham, age 20, one of the Israelis kidnapped by Hezbollah in October 2000, and now presumed dead by the government, but still sought by his family and people of conscience throughout the world. Let us call out the name of Koby Mandell, age 13, a young American immigrant brutally killed in May, 2001, whose father, Rabbi Seth Mandell, talks about the empty seat at his Shabbat table and shares the pain of watching other boys grow up, watching their voices deepen, their shoulders broaden, their gaits quicken, even as his son lies dead.
Let us call out the names of Noy and Dvir Anter, aged 12 and 14, who were “guilty” of the crime of going down to the lobby of the hotel in Mombasa, Kenya with their mother and sister in search of a cup of coffee –the wrong place at the wrong time. Let us call out the names of Maryam Attar, 27, Kamar Abu Hamed, 12, Abigail Leitel, 14, Mordechai Hersko, 41, and his son Tom Hershko, 15, a Muslim, a Druze, a Baptist, and two Jews, among the 17 murdered in Haifa barely a month ago on March 5. Let us call out the names of Ernest and Eva Weiss, aged 80 and 75, residents of Petach Tikvah who survived Nazi concentration camps only to be slaughtered while sitting down for the Pesach Seder at the Park Hotel just a year ago.
As we call out these names, let us commit to some action, to embrace the families of the victims. As we call out these names, let us commit to building a friendship with Israel and Israelis which is not just about politics, and not solely about mourning and memory.
And as we call out these names, unlike too many of our enemies, let us not call for vengeance, let us not call for more bloodshed. Instead, as we mourn, let us hope; as we remember the many lives lost during this crazy and pointless war, let us pray ever more intensely for a just and lasting peace.
Information about many of the Israelis killed in the current violence can be found at the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Web site: http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/home.asp. Click on the “In Memoriam” section. Ideas about how to help families of victims can be found at http://www.walk4israel.com