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'It’s not as joyful as usual': Manitobans mark first Passover since start of Israel-Hamas war

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The ongoing Israel-Hamas war has put a damper on the usual Passover festivities this year, but according to advocates in Manitoba’s Jewish community, it’s also given new meaning to the holiday.

“Passover is a holiday about freedom,” said Rena Secter Elbaze, the executive director of Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

The holiday is celebrated around the world from April 22 to April 30 this year, and celebrates the freedom of Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It’s marked by dishes and displays and is rooted in symbolism.

“On the Seder plate, we always have an egg, the symbol of life. We have the bitter herbs with the horseradish which are a symbol of the bitterness of slavery,” Secter Elbaze said.

This year, there’s an extra seat at Secter Elbaze’s Passover table.

“There is an empty chair for the hostages who won’t be with their families because there are still hostages that haven’t been freed,” she said.

On Oct. 7, Hamas militants attacked Israel and abducted more than 250 people. According to Israel’s data, there are still over a hundred hostages that haven’t returned home.

“They’ll definitely be on the minds of everyone,” said Jewish Federation CEO Jeff Lieberman.

At the Asper Jewish Community Campus, an empty Passover table serves as a stark reminder.

“To have all of our chairs being empty it just shows how…you know, ‘Let my people go,’ how important that is and to please let our hostages go,” Lieberman said.

The rise of anti-Semitism is also on the minds of community members.

“It’s not as joyful as usual,” said Secter Elbaze. “Everything is a little bit unsettled and uneasy.”

At Bernstein’s Deli, a strong show of community and customer support is present this Passover.

“We’re seeing about the same as what we used to see before the pandemic, potentially even a bit more business,” said owner Aaron Bernstein.

Meanwhile, Secter Elbaze said she hopes that support will help set a positive tone for the holiday season.

“We hope that this Seder will be the start of new things and about a new season and a new moment for our community,” she said.

For people looking to participate in the festivities, Secter Elbaze said Congregation Shaarey Zedek will hold an interfaith Seder celebration for anyone to join. Those who are interested can contact the Synagogue directly.

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