My parents were taken hostage on 7 October. This Passover, we pray for leaders who bring dignity and peace | Sharone Lifschitz

Passover has an intensity I have always cherished. I love the sense of community, family, tradition, inclusivity and togetherness. We mark it with a ceremonial meal – the Seder – with rituals, special foods and a communal reading of the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. In London, we invite a joyous array of guests, Jewish and not Jewish, and find creative ways to interpret the story of the path to freedom.

Each year we are encouraged to reflect: “In each and every generation a person is obliged to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt.” This line from the Haggadah asks us to empathise with the freed Hebrew slaves, to put ourselves in their shoes. It is the thread that binds our generation to all those who came before us.

This year, in the midst of our generation’s bloodiest war, we must also put ourselves in the bare feet and ripped pyjamas of the hostages, brutally snatched from their homes in Israel to the underground tunnels of Gaza, and those who survived the atrocities of 7 October. In the name of freedom, Hamas slaughtered innocent civilians and took others captive, among them my parents, the political activists Oded and Yocheved Lifschitz, who were taken hostage on 7 October. We have firsthand accounts of hostages facing terrifying abuse, torture and rape. This reality makes the idea of sitting at the Seder Passover table almost impossible to bear.

On the day after Seder, it will be 200 days since the remaining 133 hostages – children, women and men, the elderly and the frail – were taken into the labyrinths of Gaza. For their families, this thought is inescapable and endless. It lives inside us, taking root, wrapping itself around our vital organs. Their time is up. Earlier this month, Hamas said that there are no longer 40 hostages who qualify for return on humanitarian grounds, striking even more fear into our hearts.

Yet in the name of peace and security, many too above ground in Gaza are suffering in the war. I must expand my compassion, across the political divisions and across nations, to see others’ pain as mine, just as my parents did, and just as my father, a journalist, did when he wrote that “when the Palestinians have nothing to lose, we lose big time”. I hear his voice still, and have always understood that he was speaking of our interconnectedness, as neighbours. Six generations of my family have lived in this part of the world.

Freed Israeli hostage filmed extending hand to Hamas militant in video released by group – video

The families of the hostages were heartbroken again to find that the most recent deal between Hamas and Israel had failed. Knowing that many are murdered already, we hurtle down a slope, hoping to rescue our loved ones, crashing as we fall. Our despair after nearly 200 dark days and long nights is thrust to the depths of the Earth, where no daylight can reach and nothing can grow.

We who are part of the Nir Oz community – the idyllic kibbutz my parents helped to found in 1956, and where I lived until I moved to London 32 years ago – have learned to hug each other, to share kind words amid the devastation. Most families lost loved ones, and all have lost lifelong friends. Uprooted from our burnt home, healing cannot begin until our loved ones are returned.

On 7 October, the kibbutz was devastated, burned, looted and pillaged. My parents’ house, with a lifetime of their possessions, work and memories, has been destroyed for ever. The tight-knit community of 400 people, just 1.7 miles from Gaza, lost 117 people who were kidnapped or murdered on that catastrophic morning. Entire families were eliminated. Fourteen Thai citizens working at Nir Oz were also murdered. Today, while some have been released (including my mother), 36 Nir Oz inhabitants are still in captivity, including my father, along with 97 others.

My father has often said: “War is the failure to make agreements in advance.” Through our pain and suffering, we must find the shared humanity that can form the basis for the hostages’ safe return, coexistence and lasting peace in the region. Yet empathy alone is not enough. Both sides must find the ability to look into the eyes of the children of my kibbutz and the children of Gaza and promise them a safe future. Then the abductees can return and we can move to the next stage – that is, striving for an end with international aid.

The question is not so much what Sinwar-Hamas will say, or what Netanyahu-Israel will say, but what the residents of Israel and Gaza need now. We need a regional security arrangement, based on the Abraham accords, with the supporting countries of the world. We need a deal to release our families from captivity and torture. We need leaders truly committed to a more optimistic vision for the region who can deliver outcomes that benefit the people of Israel and Gaza. Only then can we honour the spirit of Passover and bring the anguish to an end. It is a moral imperative. We must find a way to acknowledge each other’s pain, and to live with our neighbours in peace and dignity.

So how can we sit at the Seder table when our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers are still held in Gaza? Our kibbutz always sought a secular reading of Jewish rituals. In 2008, it created a Haggadah with four chapters. The fourth chapter speaks of peace: peace among ourselves, peace with others and with our Palestinian neighbours, and peace as a way of life and a worldview. Therefore peace is at the heart of our reiteration of the Haggadah. As we gather around the Seder table this year, we remember that the journey from slavery to freedom is not just a historical event, but an eternal calling for all.

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Title: My parents were taken hostage on 7 October. This Passover, we pray for leaders who bring dignity and peace | Sharone Lifschitz
URL: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/apr/22/israel-hostages-gaza-hamas-passover
Source: World news: Religion | guardian.co.uk
Source URL: https://www.theguardian.com/world/religion
Date: April 22, 2024 at 09:03AM
Feedly Board(s): Religion