Sadly, I am updating something I wrote in 2003, when Palestinians terrorists were targeting Israelis – as they are today.
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, we must rise to the challenge to reclaim our symbols, remember our losses and reaffirm our commitment to Israel, the Jewish People and a true peace.
Since last October, when the Palestinians turned toward violence yet again, too many have died and too many have been injured, on both sides. And too many seders will have empty chairs, missing husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.
The seder’s power comes from its ritualization of memory. It is a primal, sensual, literal, service. The seder plate – evoking the mortar used in building with charoset and the tears shed by the slaves with salt water – helps us visualize the trauma of slavery.
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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. And as we do that, let us take the time to find out the name of one victim of the current conflict, or one victim murdered years earlier – one Jew who cannot celebrate this year’s holiday, one family in mourning.
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 name of Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old soldier killed by Hamas in August 2014, but whose remains Hamas is holding in a cruel assault on Hadar’s family – and civilized norms.
Let us call out the names of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, ambushed in October, slaughtered in the front seat of their car as their four children sat in the back. Let us call out the name of Ezra Schwartz, an 18-year-old kid from Massachusetts who was just trying to enjoy his yeshiva gap year and help out with tzedakah projects when he was gunned down at a traffic stop. Let us call out the name of Dafna Meir, a 38-year-old mother of six who was stabbed to death while painting the front door to her home, who died protecting her children as they remained safely inside.
As we call these names, let us commit to some action, to embrace the victims’ families. Let us build a friendship with Israel and Israelis that’s not just about politics and not solely about mourning.
And as we call out these names, unlike our enemies, let us not call for vengeance. Instead, as we mourn, let us hope. As we remember the many lives lost during this crazy and pointless century of war, let us pray ever more intensely for a just and lasting peace, and for an end to the terrorism afflicting Jews and non-Jews alike.