Stuart Katz

Pesach Amidst Pain: A Personal Journey Through Our Struggle for Freedom

This Pesach, my heart wrestles with survivor’s guilt as I navigate the dichotomy of celebrating freedom while knowing so many still suffer. Survivor’s guilt, a term that sounds so clinical for an emotion that is deeply personal and raw, creeps into my thoughts as I visit each affected site and meet with survivors. Why was I not among those who faced direct harm? Why do I get to sit at my Seder while others cannot? These questions punctuate each step I take, embedding a sense of responsibility in my actions—a responsibility to bear witness, remember, and help carry the weight of those who have endured so much.

In each interaction with survivors, in the shared tears and stories, I am reminded that survivor’s guilt is not a burden to be carried alone but a reflection of our interconnected lives. It prompts a deeper understanding of our roles within our communities—as individuals celebrating a historical exodus and as part of a collective journey towards healing and understanding. This year, more than ever, our freedom is intertwined with the continued captivity and suffering of others, making the joy of Pesach interlaced with a profound sadness.

As we prepare for tonight’s sedar, I reflect on what freedom truly means during these troubled times. Traditionally, Pesach is a celebration of liberation, recalling our ancestors’ escape from bondage. But this year, the concept of freedom is fraught with contradictions following the devastating events of October 7th.

Since that traumatic day, I have visited affected communities dozens of times. I’ve stood on the grounds of the Nova Massacre and spent hundreds of hours with survivors from the Kibbutzim of Nir Oz, Reim, Kfar Aza, Be’eri, Mefalsim, Urim, Netiv Hasara, Nahal Oz, and Zikim. Each visit to Sderot, Netivot, and Ofakim reminds us of our nation’s pain and loss. The question that haunts me during each journey is why I was spared and what my responsibilities are to those less fortunate.

This year, Pesach certainly feels different. With 133 of our brothers and sisters still in captivity and countless families irrevocably broken, the usual joy of Pesach is overshadowed by a pervasive sense of loss. As we recite the story of going out of Egypt, I’m reminded that many in our community cannot feel the freedom we should be celebrating.

Despite the pain, there have been moments of profound hope. Ten days ago, a miraculous event— which looked like an actual video game but was real life—reminded us of hope’s enduring power. Such events compel us to keep faith in the possibility of redemption and renewal, even in the darkest times.

So, how do I reconcile celebrating freedom when so much of our community remains in chains, either physically or emotionally? This question is especially poignant as I think about my frequent visits to those who have suffered directly from these tragedies. Each conversation with a survivor, each tear shed in solidarity, challenges me to consider my role in fostering healing and hope.

Coping and Encouragement:

Navigating these emotions during Pesach involves embracing the complexity of our reality:

Recognizing Our Pain: This Pesach, acknowledging our collective trauma, is as crucial as recounting the story of our ancestors.

Supporting Each Other: The strength of our community lies in our ability to lean on one another. Our gatherings might be smaller, our celebrations more subdued, but they are no less meaningful.

Channeling Pain into Action: Each visit, each supportive gesture to these communities, is my way of adding a brick to rebuilding our collective spirit and well-being.

Selfish – perhaps, but real.

As I prepare for the Seder, I realize that freedom this year means the freedom to mourn, to remember, and to hope for a future where such pain is no more. It means working towards a day when we can all genuinely celebrate personal and communal liberation.

This Pesach, as we sit at our Seder tables – with empty seats for more than just Eliyahu Hanavi, let’s attempt to embrace the full spectrum of what freedom can mean today. Let’s try to use our stories of past and present to inspire strength and resilience. Remember those who cannot be with us and honor them through our prayers for peace and justice. And let us move forward, each at our own pace, towards a future where all can feel freedom.

Finding Meaning in the Midst of Grief:

Amidst Pesach’s traditional songs and rituals, I find myself seeking new meanings in the ancient words כל דכפין ייתי ויכול”.. “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” we say, and this invitation feels heavier this year—an invitation not just to share food but to share in the burden of grief and the hope for redemption. Each cup of wine, traditionally a symbol of joy, also invites reflection on the cups of sorrow that have not yet passed from our collective grasp. As we dip our herbs in saltwater tonight, let the tears they represent remind us of the resilience and renewal possible even after the deepest sorrows.

Faith, a cornerstone of Pesach, plays a dual role in light of recent events. It is both a source of comfort and a challenge. How do we maintain faith when the night seems unending? I find the answer is in the community—our shared strength and resolve to not let the darkness define us. Our faith in a better tomorrow becomes the bedrock on which we build our path forward.

As we conclude our Seder and say לשנה הבאה בירושלים, “Next year in Jerusalem,” these words resonate with a more profound yearning—not just for a place, but for a state of being where freedom and peace are realities for all. The journey there is long and fraught with challenges, but it is a journey we commit to anew tonight. We step into tomorrow not just carrying our history but also our hope, fortified by the unity of the community and a renewed commitment to each other’s freedom and well-being.

This Pesach lets us acknowledge the full spectrum of our emotions as we navigate through our Seder. It’s okay to feel joy, to feel sadness, and to feel hope and hopelessness all intertwined. These feelings do not diminish the celebration of freedom; they enrich it, reminding us of the preciousness of the liberty we cherish and the work still required to achieve it universally. As we move forward, let us find comfort in knowing that through our collective efforts, remembering, and acting, we make strides toward a more compassionate, just, and free world for everyone.



NATAL – Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center

Offers support to victims of trauma due to terror and war.

Phone: 1-800-363-363 — Website:


ERAN – Emotional First Aid by Telephone & Internet

Provides confidential emotional support by trained volunteers through telephone and internet.

Phone: 1201   — Website:


Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma

Focuses on treatment, training, and research in the field of psychotrauma.

Phone: (02)-6449666 — Website:

About the Author
Stuart is a co-founder of the Nafshenu Alenu mental health educational initiative founded in 2022. He currently serves on the Board of Visitors of McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University Medical School. He serves as Chairman of the Board of OGEN – Advancement of Mental Health Awareness in Israel; chairman of Mental Health First Aid Israel and a partner in “Deconstructing Stigma” in Israel. He is on the Board of Directors of the Religious Conference Management Association. He has counseled over 7,000 individuals and families in crisis