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A Blood-Stained Passover
by Judy Lash Balint
March 28, 2002

Most Israelis hadn't yet sat down to begin their own Seder when news broke of twenty unarmed, innocent Jews murdered while waiting to celebrate the festival of freedom at a hotel in Netanya.

The carnage this time was wrought by a Hamas member who had been employed in Netanya hotels. Thus his presence at the Park Hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea aroused no suspicion.

I was fortunate that I did not learn of the tragedy until tonight, after the conclusion of Yom Tov. Among the rules of Passover observance for observant Jews, is refraining from turning electricity on and off, so I was blissfully unaware of events until I picked up the messages from my answering machine after night fell. The producer of a Seattle radio station where I contribute occasional commentary from Jerusalem had called to schedule an interview. "We'd like to talk about Arafat, Beirut and what happened in Netanya," he said.

My heart sank, as I realized that he could only be referring to another terror attack. Turning to the Internet I quickly learned of the devastating dimensions of the most recent cowardly Islamikaze incursion, but panic set in when I read the name of the hotel where it had taken place. One of my closest friends and her entire family always spend Pesach at the hotel next door, and I remembered that sometimes they took meals at the Park. In fact, two years ago, I had stayed at the Park in order to spend the festival with them.

A few frantic phone calls later, I was able to reach them. Still in shock at the events they had witnessed from such close quarters, Debbie told me that she kept telling herself this must be a nightmare. She and her husband were left to explain to their 4 year old, not the ancient story of the exodus from Egypt, but why their Seder had been disrupted by those bent on murdering Jews.

As I write, another terrorist incursion into a Jewish community in Samaria has been reported. Four dead in Eilon Moreh, where I also have friends.

I spent Seder night with good friends in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. Driving over there about 40 minutes before the start of the holiday, I passed several hotels that in normal times would have been a buzz of activity. They appeared to be almost deserted.

Perhaps it was the inclement weather that kept people away from the Kotel (Western Wall), or the fact that most women arrive at the beginning of Pesach completely exhausted from the cleaning and cooking, but I had my choice of spots right up against the Wall--generally unheard of on either Friday night or festival evening.

As the rain started to fall, I made a hasty conclusion to my prayers and walked back to my hosts. along the slippery stone stairs and alleyways. A few minutes later, hail, thunder, lightning and gusty winds started and continued to provide a dramatic backdrop to our Seder. Tonight, Debbie told me that it had been the same in Netanya following the terror murders--we asked ourselves what to make of it.

Passover celebrates the redemption from Egypt and our aspirations for the ultimate redemption, inextricably tied to Jerusalem and the Temple. For centuries, Jews all over the world yearned for a return to Jerusalem, concluding their Seder with the words, "Next year in Jerusalem! Last night we sat reciting the Haggadah just a few minutes away from the ancient holy site--a humbling and awesome experience.

This morning, the rain had cleared the air. I take my coffee up the spiral stairs leading to the rooftop of the house in the Old City. A panoramic view of Jerusalem greets me. To the south, the rolling hills, still green, stretch toward Tekoa. Across the Kidron Valley, the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world, the Mt of Olives, stretches across the slope. Directly below are the courtyards and rooftops of the Jewish Quarter, spotted with flapping Israeli flags. Over to the north, satellite dishes dot the roofs of buildings in the Moslem Quarter, while to the northeast,the distinctive arches of the Mormon University and the red tiles of neighboring Yeshivat Beit Orot are visible.

Under the Saudi initiative touted in Beirut, almost all the areas under my view would pass out of Israeli sovereignty in yet another doomed "land for peace" exchange. Sorry, Abdullah. You'll have to stop financing Hamas and their nihilist cowards and lay off the anti-Jewish incitement in your society before anyone here will even give you the time of day.