Israelis from border towns mark Passover away from home


Jewish people mark on Monday the start of Passover, a celebration of freedom, and around many holiday tables in Israel chairs will stand empty for hostages still held captive in Gaza.

The week-long Jewish festival, also known in Hebrew as the "holiday of freedom", celebrates the Israelites' liberation from Egyptian slavery, as told in the Bible.

Passover is traditionally observed with a seder: a holiday feast when families eat symbolic foods and read the Haggadah.

The more than millennium-old text recounts the Exodus and Jewish people's ties, and their yearning to return, to the Holy Land.

For many this year, Passover will be stained by absence and anguish; particularly the relatives of the hostages, grieving families and more than 120,000 Israelis displaced from their homes in the north and south of the country because of the war in the Gaza Strip.

- 'How can we celebrate?' -

Over the past few days, Israeli Jews have been making preparations for the holiday: fastidious house cleaning, burning leavened goods eschewed during Passover, and copious food shopping.

But the holiday mood has been dampened by more than six months of war in Gaza, with many Israelis serving in the military away from home.

Above all, the continuing captivity of 129 hostages abducted by Palestinian militants on October 7 has cast a pall over Passover.

For many relatives of the captives, this Passover will not be joyous.

- 'Wander in the desert' -

Many families will mark Passover away from home, driven out by fighting between Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah that has turned northern and southern border communities into ghost towns.

Around 60,000 Israelis from the north and almost an equal number from southern Israel remain internally displaced, according to official figures.

Hotels still house more than 26,000 displaced, many of whom will hold seders there.

Nisan Zeevi, an entrepreneur from Kfar Giladi kibbutz near the Lebanese border, said his family has been "uprooted from our homes" for more than half a year.

Political leaders have given them no hint as to when they might return, he said.

"We're not celebrating Passover in a normal way," Zeevi said. Like the biblical Israelites, he added, this year they will "wander in the desert".

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