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Day 189 Of The War: ״Let My People Go״

My photo of the Families tent outside the Knesset
My photo of the Families tent outside the Knesset

As we draw closer to Passover, the hope of seeing the hostages reunited with their families around the Seder tables seems unreal. Now, it seems like in the Bible and the Haggadah, Pharaoh won’t let them go. The idea of going through the Seder without them becomes harder and harder, and the family headquarters, which fights to keep the hostages in our thoughts and in our hearts, has published a special Haggadah in their honor. Additionally, the headquarters has moved its base to Jerusalem and is operating from several caravans outside the Knesset. After 6 months, the families have had enough, and they are increasing the pressure to release their loved ones. They are done sitting quietly so as not to disrupt His Highness Netanyahu in his efforts to bring them home.

In 1984, I started working as a program director in the Hillel organization at the University of Iowa. It was still a time when the Prisoners of Zion in the USSR, or the Refuseniks, were held hostage by the Soviet Union. Some of them, like Natan Sharansky and Yuli Edelstein, were actually imprisoned, while others faced daily hardships to discourage their Zionist activities and were not allowed to work, study, or lead a Jewish lifestyle. Jewish communities around the world were trying to do their utmost to help set them free. There were also symbolic and ceremonial acts. For example, during Pesach, in addition to the two Seders that we held in Hillel, we held a third one for Soviet Jewry. Since we didn’t print a special Haggadah for that purpose, we read special portions from the Haggadah and added some texts that honored the Prisoners of Zion. As one of the purposes of the Seder and the Haggadah is to teach the next generation what happened in Egypt, this was a very effective way to teach the students in Hillel about the plight of USSR Jews and to strengthen the bond between our community and Jewish communities around the world, in general, and in the USSR, in particular. To this day, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Prisoners of Zion from the USSR, and I am always disappointed if they behave outside of their, then, heroic character, as happens often with Yuli Edelstein.

Another matter worth mentioning is that in recent years around university campuses, I stopped seeing thriving Hillel centers, and instead, there are Chabad houses. It is a great pity. I have always considered the liberal and inclusive Hillel in all the campuses we visited a home away from home.

About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.
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