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Jewish World Review March 22, 2002 /9 Nisan, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

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Empty places at the table

How much will Israel be asked to sacrifice this year?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Passover has been part of Jewish life for approximately 3,500 years, but for most of us, it is not so much about the great historical struggles of the Jewish people as it is about our own families.

Our personal memories of Passover are generally linked to people close to us and events that molded our families. In my own family, this year will mark another transition that is both painful and hopeful. My father passed away since the last Pesach, but our family's numbers have remained the same with the addition of my baby daughter. It will be the first Passover without my Dad and it will also mark little Moriah Meital Tobin's first appearance at a seder table.

Thus, this Passover is a profound milestone through which we will date all those seders that came before and those to come in the future.

But as much as the anticipation of Passover engenders tears of joy and sadness for the changes in the faces at our seder table, I cannot help but think of other families and their pain this year.

THE GRIEVING ONES

For families of the victims of Sept. 11, as well as for the families of the victims of literally hundreds of other no less horrifying - though smaller in scale - acts of terrorism against Israel, there are all too many empty places around the table and empty hearts that can find little consolation.

For those who have suffered these terrible blows this past year, it will take no leap of imagination to read in the Passover Haggadah of the suffering of slaves in Egypt or what it might mean to endure plagues. For these families, there will be no need for salt water to symbolize the shedding of tears.

And for the people of Israel, this will be a Passover celebrated during a war of terror that was launched by the Palestinian Arabs 18 months ago. Its cost has grown more terrible with each passing day, and there is, despite talk of cease-fires, literally no end in sight. No one knows how many more lives will be senselessly lost before the next Pesach.

Those who live with this fear will require no great rabbinic insight to understand the meaning of the phrase recited with a raised wine cup: " in every generation men rise against us to destroy us ."

Israelis are attempting to defend themselves against bloody bombings and shootings inflicted by Palestinian "martyrs" who show as little consideration for the lives of the the weak as did Pharoah's overseers.

But like the children of Israel who escaped Egypt, Israelis take no pleasure in seeing the death of their enemies. Unlike the Palestinians who still celebrate suicide bombings - as well as the 9/11 attacks with dancing in the streets - the Jewish people are horrified by the self-inflicted suffering of the Palestinians, and grieve over the fact that Israel has been forced to respond with violence.

Yet it will be a bitter irony for the families of these Israeli victims to know that the unlike the masterminds of the 9/11 victims, most of those who planned their loved one's murders are not dead or on the run.

The United States has acted to enforce swift and terrible justice on the Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban allies. Though Osama bin Laden himself remains at large and the danger is far from over, the infrastructure of terror that ruled Afghanistan is gone.

But the man who bears ultimate responsibility for the bloodshed of the last year in Israel is not gone. Yasser Arafat still sits on his throne in Ramallah, like a modern-day Pharaoh whose hardened heart is deaf to the cries of his own wounded people, as well as his Jewish victims. Thanks to U.S. diplomatic intervention, he is now free to roam his realm, and may even soon make a road trip to Beirut to accept the congratulations of the Arab world for his refusal to stop either terror or the fomenting of hatred against Jews and Israel.

For the people of Israel, these latest developments must remind them of the meaning of the word Pesach - "sacrifice." As America attempts to persuade the Arab world to support the next phase of the anti-terror war - which may mean an attempt to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - you can only wonder whether life-threatening Israeli concessions will be the price of Arab acquiescence to President Bush's plans.

Though perhaps well-intentioned, these efforts to bludgeon Israel into giving the Palestinians a reward for their rejection of peace in the summer of 2000 and their ensuing choice of war will mean that those Jews murdered by the Arabs of late will truly have died in vain. And it will set up a situation that will provide incentives to the killers to strike again the next time they wish to turn up the heat on Israel or the United States. While Israel would welcome any respite from the killing, the Palestinians - including close aides to Arafat who command the Fatah murder squads - admit openly that they will continue attacks on Jews no matter what is being negotiated.

THE COST OF APPEASEMENT

But to speak of these things only in terms of strategy and the deals that states make is to lose sight of the real cost of misguided diplomacy.

When you think or read about the resumption of a process of pressure on Israel in the coming weeks and months, think about the empty places around hundreds of Israeli seder tables this month. Ponder what it will mean for the children who have lost parents and the parents that have lost a child because of the intransigence, ambition and hatred of Yasser Arafat and his followers. Think also of those Israeli families whose sons are still missing after being captured by Arab terrorists, such as Ron Arad, lost in Lebanon in 1986, and the three Israelis who were kidnapped by Hezbollah under the eyes of a U.N. peacekeeping force in 2000.

Think, too, of the Iranian Jewish families whose loved ones are still in prison for the crime of teaching about Judaism.

This year, we should try not only to imagine the feelings of the liberated slaves of Egypt, but also to put ourselves in the place of these families who are the victims of a failed peace process. Their Passovers will forever be diminished by the loss of loved ones. And let us not forget that this loss came at the hands of those who have reminded us that evil is not just a word, but a reality that must be confronted in every generation.

Like the herbs we eat at the seder to recall slavery, such thoughts leave a bitter taste in our mouths.

But just as Passover helps as reaffirm our devotion to freedom, so, too, must our celebration of it remind us that out of this pain, it is possible for us to draw the strength and the faith that will enable us to survive.


JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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