A Passover Shrouded in Grief as Israelis Remember Hostages

Heidi Levine for The Washington Post
Families of Israeli hostages protest next to an empty Seder table in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea on Monday, the first night of Passover.

CAESAREA, Israel – Around the world, Jews left empty seats at their Seder tables as they marked Passover – the religious celebration of the Jewish people’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. The vacant chairs served as a reminder of the more than 130 hostages still captive in Gaza.

On Monday, the first night of the holiday, hundreds gathered outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in this seaside town shouting, “You’re the head, you’re to be blamed.” Demonstrators demanded that Netanyahu’s government do more to free the hostages.

Israelis said the holiday was shrouded with sadness.

“You can’t walk and say happy holidays to people,” said Maya Raviv, who came to demonstrate with her 8-year-old daughter, Liyah. “It’s not.”

Liyah’s friend and classmate, Naveh Shoham, was taken hostage on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked communities in southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping more than 250 civilians and soldiers.

Heidi Levine for The Washington Post
Maya Raviv, center, and her 8-year-old daughter, Liyah, stand in protest with families of the hostages outside Benjamin Netanyahu’s home.

Although 8-year-old Naveh was released during a pause in fighting last year, his father, Tal Shoham, remains in Gaza.

In Tel Aviv, at what has become known as “hostage square,” families set empty Seder tables and sang songs in honor of the missing.

Yuval Or, 72, the father of hostage Dror Or, wanted to mark the holiday with those who could understand his pain.

“I do not want to celebrate Passover, but my son, Dror, has three children, and their mother was killed, so we are taking care of them now,” he said. “I will take them to the communal dinner at the hostage square.”

Heidi Levine for The Washington Post
Yuval Or, 72, the father of hostage of Dror Or, who is held in Gaza, sits on a folding chair during an anti-government protest Saturday night in Tel Aviv.

Over the weekend, as has become customary, thousands of people streamed into Tel Aviv’s streets in anti-government protests. Negotiations to release more hostages from Gaza have stalled, driving demonstrators to call for the resignation of Netanyahu and for immediate elections.

One protester carried a sign that played off of the traditional four questions asked each year at the Seder table.

“How is this govt different from all others?” the sign said, adding: “1,500 dead, 250 hostages, 100,000 displaced, strengthen Hamas.”

“Egypt got 10 plagues,” said Maya Raviv, referring to the story of Exodus, retold each year on Passover, “and Israel got one. It’s called Bibi Netanyahu.”