Our kids rushed into the communal dining room. “We just saw a bunch of rockets get intercepted mid-air near the pool.” No sooner did our older daughter finish those words when we heard several massive booms in close succession. We quickly made our way outside along with most of the hotel guests. With the next booms we felt the reverberations as the buildings shook and the windows rattled. The hotel manager appeared and calmly, but firmly, directed us toward the steps of the bomb shelter. Just that morning, I’d sat outside there with my book and cup of coffee, appreciating nature’s serenity and the ample amenities of this Ma’alot hotel. I made note of the miklat (shelter) entrance 25 feet away and wondered if the space was ever used for its intended purpose.
Now I know for sure.
On the first day of Passover, cities in northern Israel were attacked by a barrage of 34 rockets from Lebanon that resulted in three reported injuries and other property damage. Passover is the holiday when Jewish people around the world celebrate the redemption of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt and liberation from the tyranny of Pharaoh. It is a holiday that is marked with the retelling of the story through the Haggadah at the Passover seder, along with eating matzah and other symbolic foods, as well as avoiding forbidden leavened wheat products. In the days when the Temple stood, Passover was also a pilgrimage holiday. But what stood out to me most on this holiday was the joyous coming together of families for a multi-generational experience celebrating our freedom. Only at that moment I noted the number of grandparents and great-grandparents being shepherded along with tiny children.
We sent our teenage children down the stairs to safety. My spouse and I looked at each other in disbelief. It’s not that we don’t expect violence. In the United States, we live in constant wariness because of the steady threats of antisemitism. We know of the violent and deadly attacks on our North American synagogues, institutions and businesses, and of harassment in the streets. We see the graffiti — the literal writing on the wall — and endure hateful rhetoric. The statistics show a sharp uptick of antisemitic incidents. And yet, as I write these words many hours later, I’m still unpacking my feelings. As someone who has lived in North America and watched the news about terrorist attacks in Israel — even though I have been here during tense and terror-filled times — the feelings evoked by this attack while having to seek shelter are unlike anything I have ever experienced.
We heard and felt more booms.
I descended into the shelter to check on our children. The carpeted steps led the way into crowded rooms. Drinks of water were handed out. Elderly people were given chairs to sit in. Many adults stood, watching as their children played. Some children cried in their parents’ arms. Our own children were sitting with their friends and calming their young cousins. Overall, the space retained a nervous energy.
When my kids gave me the thumbs-up, I made my way back up the stairs. By that point, fighter jets had been deployed and the air was still. Eventually we were given the all-clear. Guests and staff ascended from the shelter and everyone returned to their previously interrupted activities, still a little rattled, but none the worse for the wear.
Our holiday joy was disrupted for just one afternoon, but I know we will be processing, talking and thinking about this day for many, many days to come.
Israel is important to us as a land, a place to fulfill religious obligations, a place of refuge and rescue, and for my spouse and me, it is our home away from home. It is a place where our children live, where we have numerous relatives and friends — and friends who are extended family — whose health and safety are paramount.
Too often, when Jews are attacked in Israel, it is chalked up to being part of the realities of a far-away geopolitical conflict. With these experiences behind me, my certainty is reconfirmed that lobbing rockets into Israeli Jewish neighborhoods is nothing short of genocidal. And the same is true when a car is rammed at a group of people at a promenade or bus stop, and when there is a targeted shooting of a passing car or near a synagogue. These acts of terror must never be legitimized because of politics or geography. These incidents are no different from attacks and mass shootings in American synagogues or markets. Jewish people everywhere — including in Israel — should be able to live free of fear.
To be sure, this is a complicated moment in Israel’s political landscape — one that I won’t belabor here. But these repeated attempts to murder Jews in Israel, go well beyond being critical of Israel and its policies.
And in case you thought otherwise, the way people talk about and minimize the value of Jewish lives in Israel helps to incite violence against Jews around the world.
There are times when I struggle to resonate with the opening words of the maggid portion of the Passover seder. But this year I think I finally understand the aspiration behind these passages:
“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate the Passover. Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel. This year we are enslaved. Next year we will be free.”
Indeed. May we all live free from the shackles of fear brought on by hate and violence.
Daphne Lazar Price is the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and an adjunct professor of Jewish Law at Georgetown University Law Center. This first appeared on The Times of Israel.