Preparations for Pesach have been completed. Soon we will celebrate with family or friends, gathered together around our festive tables, and about to read the Hagaddah.
However, a few families will have a very sad seder this year, the Israeli families who lost their loved ones over the summer turmoil in the north of Israel.
This will be their first seder with an empty chair, a chair where that beloved member of the family always sat, a soldier or a citizen who had always been present.
But I especially want us to think about and focus on the three missing Israelis. I deliberately choose to call them Israelis and not soldiers, as two of them were kidnapped while serving the country as part of their reserve military duties.
I have been a reservist for nearly ‘0 years, so their story is close to my heart. I can imagine them getting the green envelope that arrives each year requesting, very laconically, that you are called to report to your unit headquarters for your annual reserve duty. The letter states the dates of the service and a date for interviews for those who have difficulties — health or personal.
From the day you receive the letter, your mind switches to pre-reserve mode: Where will we be stationed? How far is it from home? How will I deal with my job and duties at work? How come they always call me over the holidays/exams/child’s birthday/wife’s deadline?
The pre-service days are also filled with phone calls among the men asking each other: Whose turn to bring the coffee burner? Who will give who a ride? Did you hear anything about that young new officer who just joined the unit…?
The first day of miluim (Hebrew for reserve duty) is one of mixed feelings — the messy, sloppy army base creates an atmosphere of chaos, but the joy of meeting your best buddies after an absence of six months or more overcomes that feeling.
After a couple of days of training and preparations, the unit moves to the location of service. This could be along one of the borders or in the Judea and Samaria area. I think that over my ‘0-year career as a reservist my unit has covered every single possible area in Israel.
Arriving at the area of service is always a strange event. One unit is replacing another that is leaving for home. The newcomers are trying to gather information and equipment from those who are leaving, and those who are leaving just want to get out of there as fast as possible.
The routine of night and day watch, patrols, roadblocks, night ambushes, and special operations begins. We start the inevitable countdowns. There are short-term countdowns such as when will my four-hour night watch end so I can get some sleep? When will my six-hour shift at the roadblock end so I can take this heavy helmet off? And there is the long-term countdown: When will the weekend be here so I can get some leave? And most important, when will this period end so that I can go back to my life?
Finally, after ‘0 and some odd days, the last day of service arrives, the replacement unit arrives at the camp, and our unit is in a great hurry to get out of there, return all the gear to the headquarters, and go home.
For two Israelis, on July 1′, ‘006, this countdown stopped.
On the last day of Eldad Regev’s and Udi Goldwasser’s three-week service on the Lebanese border, Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border to the Israeli side, attacked their patrol, killed three, and captured them.
These two Israelis, together with Gilad Shalit, the younger soldier who was kidnapped three weeks earlier, on June ‘5, are still held captive.
Pesach is the holiday of liberty, Chag HaHerut. I ask you all to share this sad fact with your families during your seder: Three families are still waiting; they are awaiting a modern Moses, someone who can approach the pharaohs, confront them tall and proud and say, "Free them now — let my people go!"
David Hyman is shaliach and director of the Israel Programs Center of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.