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A celebration of Sorrow and Hope

A picture of me with Soviet Jews

By Michael Oren

More than forty years ago, I celebrated Passover with the Zionist underground in the Soviet Union. Young Jews whose only crime was to learn Hebrew and yearn to move to Israel were hounded by the KGB and threatened with years of hard labor in Siberia. They were not in any way free yet still they celebrated. Behind closed doors and window shades, they hosted us, emissaries from the Jewish State in which they dreamed of one day living as a free people in their ancient homeland.

I’m reminded of that Passover on this one, occurring at a time when more than 130 Israelis remain in nightmarish captivity in Gaza. They cling to life, enduring unspeakable tortures, day after day, throughout the endless weeks and months. Their families’ suffering is indescribable. How, then, can we celebrate?

Yet, celebrate we must—for the freedom which generations of Jews were denied but which we today enjoy. We must celebrate the life that our enemies—from Almalek, to Pharoah, to Hamas—disdain. We must celebrate in the hope that this cruel war will soon end and that the State of Israel will emerge from it stronger and more united than ever.

But, along with the celebration, we must mourn the many hundreds of our fellow Jews will never again join us at the seder. We must mourn the thousands whose wounds, both physical and emotional, will prevent them from fully partaking of joy.

That was the sensation I had at that seder in the Soviet Union forty years ago, Together, we pledged “Next year in Jerusalem!” as the door burst open and KGB thugs rushed in to arrest us. Joy and sorrow mixed but hope ultimately prevailed. All of the Jews at that Seder eventually escaped to Israel and became free Jews their ancient homeland.

That is the message of this Passover. A message of hope, of resilience, and a commitment to preserve and, in spite of our nation’s pain, to celebrate.

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