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Tunnel Vision: Pesach Underground

Sign seen at Hostage Square
Sign seen at Hostage Square

Pesach 2024: This year we are not free. We’re trapped in a dark tunnel, counting plagues, counting people…

Day 200 of this war approaches. 133 Israeli hostages remain trapped in Gaza. We do not know how many of them are living. We do not know how they have managed to survive. But we know that even one day imprisoned underground is far too long. And now we try to fathom the incomprehensible number: Day One of Pesach will mark 200 days underground.

We count things out at Pesach: 10 plagues, 6 items on the seder plate, 4 cups of wine…

This year I am counting people. Praying for those we have lost and those who are missing. Praying for hostages who must come home.

I am not a numbers person, but these days I am all about the numbers. 7.10.  6:29.  I wear a sticker every day showing the number of days since Oct. 7th. (Thank you, Rachel Goldberg-Polin. Thank you for keeping this surreal situation in front of everyone’s eyes.)

Numbers swish around inside my head, a swirl of misery. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these numbers. The numbers change and my poor brain has trouble keeping up.

Passover 2024: Most years, I watch the people in my city rush about in a frenzy of preparations before the holiday. Not this year. Why is this year different from all other years? This year, many of us are frozen, stuck. Pesach? Now? How can that be? It is still October 7th for us. We are all trapped in this tunnel: wanting to hope; wanting to see a way out; but facing endless concrete walls around us.

So many souls to pray for: our hostages, our soldiers, the innocent lives lost on both sides of the border in this forever war. There is a lull in the fighting now, but the war is far from over. How many more people will die?

Numbers and more numbers: 1,200 Israeli civilians killed on Oct. 7th. 22 towns and kibbutzim attacked. 243 taken hostage. 114 hostages released. Over 600 IDF soldiers killed as of today. Over 3,000 wounded. Over 135,000 displaced Israelis.  19,407 Israeli children listed as victims of terrorism since October 7 – 7,257 of whom are under the age of six – according to official state statistics.

And on the other side of the border: Over 30,000 killed in Gaza. Like most Israelis, I find it hard to trust the numbers published by Hamas’ official statements. But whatever the precise number, there is no doubt that the majority of victims in Gaza are civilians. Yes, many Hamas terrorists have been killed in combat, but many, many more of the dead are civilians, held captive in their own land by Hamas. So many civilians caught in the horror of war.

Nova Numbers: 364 murdered at the Nova Festival.  500 wounded, 44 taken hostage; 5 Nova hostages released alive. 8 Nova hostages pronounced dead. Thousands of traumatized Nova survivors still waiting for government help.

I try to count the couples separated on October 7th, but I keep losing count. Avinatan and Noa, Elkana and Rivka, Or and Einav, Sasha and Sapir, Oryon and Shani, Elia and Ziv, Yarden and Shiri, Ohad and Raz, Tal and Adi, Tsahi and Gali, Yagev and Rimon, David and Sharon, Amiram and Nurit, Shlomo and Mazal, Ron and Ayelet, Ilan and Shiri, Alex and Michal, Omri and Lishay, Shlomi and Miren, Chaim and Osnat, Oded and Yocheved, Gadi and Efrat, Ohad and Batsheva, Ariel and Arbel, Avraham and Ruti, Yoram and Tami, Keith and Aviva, Matan and Ilana, Dror and Yonat, and so many more. So many couples tragically separated forever. We dare to hope that some, like Avinatan and Noa, may yet be reunited.

We peer ahead in this dark tunnel. We try to see the opening. We look for hope. But swirls of numbers float before our eyes, obstructing our view. Tally marks scratched into concrete walls. We cannot stop counting. The numbers change daily, but not in our favor. One number stays in front of our eyes: 133 hostages who must come home. NOW.

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” —Emma Lazarus

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. Nili volunteers with the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives in Ramat Gan.
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