Remember the Victims of Terror at the Seder 5771

REMEMBER THE VICTIMS OF TERROR AT THE SEDER:

LEAVE ONE EMPTY CHAIR AT THE TABLE
Note: Unfortunately, this is the tenth year in a row that I feel compelled to circulate this call (the text is updated…)

By GIL TROY

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, even as we marvel at Israel’s strength and tenacity in the wake of a terrorist onslaught, too many of our brothers and sisters in Israel are in pain. This year, in particular, as we think of Hamas’s hostage, Gilad Shalit, and his family, truly in a Mitzraim, in dire straits, and as we think of an entire region, the South of Israel, held hostage, 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.

Since the bloody, unnecessary war begun back in 2000 when the Palestinians turned away from negotiations toward violence, too many have died, too many have been injured, on both sides. Israel has won that war by learning to be proactive in its fight. Even though the violence has lessened, too many seders now 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 the vital interconnectedness of the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. 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 this deadly decade, for even as stability has returned, terror attempts continue, freshly dug graves pockmark the Holy Land, and the mourning for those lost persists.  And as we reflect, 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 Gilad Shalit, a 24-year-old with a shy smile, kidnapped by Hamas on the Gaza border in July, 2006 – despite the fact that Israel had disengaged from Gaza, uprooting Jewish settlements in the hope for peace. “This year we won’t celebrate Pesach,” Gilad’s father Noam said during the family’s first year in hell.  “Pesach is about freedom, and we don’t have that in our hearts. We want Gilad to return from imprisonment to freedom. It’s been nine months, and we’re not giving up.” After more than 1750 days – more than 250 shabbatot – the Shalit family, and good people around the world still refuse to give up.

Let us call out the name of Daniel Aryeh Wildfich —  a 16-year-old hovering between life and death because Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the schoolbus he was riding in, in the South.

Let us call out the name of Mary Jean Gardner, aged 59, killed in Jerusalem bus bombing – a non-Jewish British woman living in Jerusalem for a year to study Bible, whose murder in the recent Jerusalem bus bombing reminds us that this kind of terror targets Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Arabs, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let us call out the names of the Fogel family – Udi, age 36; Ruth, age 35; Yoav, age 11; Elad, age 4; Baby Hadas, age 3 months – butchered to death on a Friday night, in a mass murder that should have elicited worldwide revulsion but triggered celebrations in Gaza.

Let us call out the names of  Hani al-Mahdi, 27, of Aroar, a Beduin settlement in the Negev, Irit Sheetrit, 39, of Ashdod – a mother of four — Warrant Officer Lutfi Nasraladin, 38, of the Druze town of Daliat el-Carmel, all killed by Hamas rockets smuggled into Gaza, then launched into Israel’s pre-1967 borders in separate incidents on December 29, 2008. The different communities, religions, and yes, skin colors, of the victims, remind us that Israelis are a diverse, multicultural, multiracial lot, further disproving the ugly lies that Zionism is in any way racist.

Acknowledging the bravery of the IDF soldiers who fought reluctantly but heroically to defend their country in Gaza, let us call out the names of Major Eliraz Peretz, 31, of Eli, and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky, 21, of Rishon Letzion, killed by Hamas terrorists on the Gazan border on March 26, 2010, four and a half years after Israel voluntarily disengaged from Gaza, inviting and challenging Palestinians to build their own civil society rather than trying to destroy Israel.

Remembering previous victims, let us call out the name of Yaniv Bar-On, the 20-year-old son of a South African father and a Canadian mother, ambushed while trying to save Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev from Hezbollah’s clutches in 2006, of Roi Klein, 31, a father of two, who jumped on a grenade crying “Shma Yisrael,” Hear O’ Israel, sacrificing his life to save his troops from certain death during the Second Lebanon War, and of Benny Avraham, age 20, one of three young Israelis murdered by Hezbollah in a failed kidnapping in October 2000, whose bodies were kept frozen as the sadistic terrorists toyed with the emotions of the three grieving families – 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 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 exactly nine years ago, Pesach, 2002.

And as we condemn modern-day Pharoahs in Iran and elsewhere, as we recoil from the worldwide scourge of anti-Semitism this terrorism also unleashed, let us call out the names of Ilan Halimi, the 23-year-old French Jew cellphone salesman kidnapped, tortured and murdered in a Parisian suburb by anti-Semitic thugs, and of Daniel Pearl, the 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped, then murdered, in Pakistan almost exactly four years earlier.

As we call out these names, let us vow to do what we can to bring Gilad Shalit home. As we call out these names, let us commit to some action, to embrace the families of the victims – more than a thousand who have died and the nearly ten thousand who were injured. As we call out these names, as we also celebrate the redemption we will mark as we celebrate Israel’s 63rd anniversary, 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 website.

Ideas about how to help families of victims can be found from the Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror.

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 splits his time between Montreal and Jerusalem.

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