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Kibbutz Be’eri survivors hold Seder in Hostages Square; fiery protests at PM’s home

The Jewish holiday of Passover began in Israel on Monday evening, with families around the country gathering for the festive Seder meal, held this year under the cloud of war with Hamas and the 133 hostages still held by the Hamas terror group.

While some marked the holiday with symbolic acts to commemorate the victims and the hostages, others chose to forgo the traditional meal and protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home.

  • Jews traditionally read through the Haggadah on Passover eve, which recounts the story of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery and exodus from Egypt, a telling made more poignant amid the continued captivity hostages, more than six months since they were dragged off to Gaza during the October 7 massacre.

Many Israelis, and Jews around the world, were encouraged to leave an empty chair at the table to symbolize the absence of the hostages, the 1,200 people killed in the terror onslaught, along with the more than 260 soldiers who have fallen since.

Marking the holiday, some 500 members of the Kibbutz Be’eri community held a Passover Seder in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, in a cry to free their loved ones.

  • During the event, girls from the kibbutz, including 9-year-old Emily Hand who was kidnapped on October 7 and released in a weeklong truce in November, took to the stage to sing “Mah Nishtana,” or the Four Questions, a song traditionally sung by the youngest member of the household that asks: “Why is this night different from every other night?”

On October 7, 100 Kibbutz Be’eri members were among those killed by Hamas terrorists and 30 were taken hostage to Gaza. Eleven of those hostages remain in Gaza, six were murdered in captivity and 13 others were released at the end of November. The kibbutz numbered some 1,000 on October 6. Its surviving members have been internally displaced for the past 200 days.

  • Speaking to Channel 12, Hand said she was remembering “every one from Be’eri who was murdered and all the hostages who have not returned.”

Highlighting the mixed emotions and the yearning for normality, the girl said that despite all the sadness, for her it was still “fun” to be able to have a communal event to mark the holiday.

Her father Thomas, noted that “we have lost a lot of people,” and said that six months later the residents still faced tremendous uncertainty, not just about the fate of their loved ones, but also the future of the kibbutz.

The event, for Kibbutz Be’eri members only, included a clear call to the government to do everything possible to bring the hostages home and to return the deceased for burial.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot visited the families as well. Eisenkot, whose son Gal Meir was killed fighting in Gaza late last year, wrote in a Facebook post that his family Seder, in addition to the nation’s, was “incomplete,” in a reference to those abducted and killed during the war.

Netanyahu also recalled the hostages held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7, in his message ahead of the Passover holiday.

  • “As we gather around the Seder table to commemorate and celebrate our journey from slavery to freedom, our hearts are heavy with the plight of the 133 Israelis who remain in captivity in Hamas’ terror tunnels,” he wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, echoing a pre-Passover video he shared online Sunday.
  • Amid the ongoing war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacre, he continued, “Tonight, we think of those who cannot join their families at the Seder table. Their absence strengthens our resolve and reminds us of the urgency of our mission. We will not rest until each one is freed.”

He added that “the genocidal terrorist organization Hamas” has rejected proposals for a hostage release deal, and promises “increased military and diplomatic efforts to secure the freedom of our hostages.”

“Israel’s strength, both defensive and offensive, has been recently displayed. There is more to come. We will prevail,” he added.

Highlighting the situation, the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon fired a barrage of some 35 rockets at northern Israel as families were sitting down to the festive meal, setting off warning sirens in the community of Ein Zeitim and the nearby city of Safed.

The IDF said there were no injuries in the attack, and that troops shelled the launch sites.

How dare Netanyahu celebrate

Meanwhile, some of the families of the hostages and hundreds of supporters held a protest “non-Seder” outside Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea, with demonstrators calling on the premier to reach a deal freeing the hostages.

  • “There’s no freedom so long as the abductees remain in Hamas’s hands. Netanyahu, who has failed to properly conduct the war and return the captives, can’t continue to lead,” they said in a statement.

“How is it possible that the Netanyahu family is celebrating in a fancy villa, when there are some Israelis held in tunnels, starving, being raped, beaten and murdered,” protesters asked.

yala Metzger, whose father-in-law Yoram Metzger, 80, has been held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7, counted with the crowd to 199, marking the days since thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into Israel, murdering some 1,200 people and kidnapping another 253 to Gaza, mostly civilians.

With chants of “Bring them home now!” the protesters splashed red paint on their “non-Seder” table instead of the traditional red wine spilled when recalling the Ten Plagues during the reading of the Haggadah.

  • At the end of the ceremony, protesters set fire to a symbolic Seder table amid chants of “Deal now!”

‘Empty chair’

This year, many families in Israel have left empty seats at the table to represent those killed or taken hostage in the Hamas onslaught.

Rachel Goldberg-Polin‘s 23-year-old son Hersh was captured and taken to Gaza on October 7 when Hamas fighters attacked the Supernova music festival in southern Israel. She said this year’s Passover would be more profound than ever and urged the government to find a way to return the hostages.

“All of the symbolic things we do at the Seder will take on a much more profound and deep meaning this year,” Goldberg-Polin, a dual citizen of Israel and the United States, told reporters.

She would be participating in a Seder with friends and family, but they have been clear if they are unable to do it or “if 15 minutes in, we just can’t do it, and we need to cry, then we will cry.”

Israel’s Hostage and Missing Family Forum, the organization representing most of the families of the hostages, urged families to place an empty chair at their Seder table with a portrait of a hostage.

Goldberg-Polin said she hoped for a ceasefire in Gaza, for the hostages to return and for an end to the “quagmire of misery and trauma.”

  • “Something that we need all of our leaders to be doing, all of them, is to make the decision to care about and love their own people more than they hate their enemies,” she said.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

  • Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.
  • Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Source: TOI