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The weeklong Jewish holiday Passover begins as the war in Gaza continues

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Jewish holiday Passover begins tonight at sundown. All over the world families will gather to retell the biblical story of Exodus, when Jews were delivered from slavery in ancient Egypt. But in Israel, many say, with the continued fighting in Gaza and more than 100 hostages still being held there, it's no time to rejoice. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MERCHANT: (Speaking Hebrew).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: A man selling watermelon shouts from his stall in Jerusalem's main outdoor market, teeming with spices, fruits and plenty of Passover provisions.

ZULI ELIAV: (Speaking Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Hebrew).

KAHN: At one stall, two men are in a lively discussion. One tells the other it's not right to celebrate Passover this year.

Do you agree with him?

ELIAV: I understand him but I not agree.

KAHN: Zuli Eliav (ph) says the holiday reaffirms centuries of Jewish resiliency, which is important to remember during times of war.

ELIAV: And the Jewish people knows how to keep every Jewish link in the long chain, even it was hard times.

KAHN: Though, throughout Israel the holiday is subdued.

SARAH KORN: You cannot say happy holidays because it just isn't a happy time.

KAHN: Sarah Korn (ph) was out on a quiet Tel Aviv street grabbing last-minute Passover items. The events of October 7 weigh on her. According to Israeli authorities, about 1,200 people were killed that day when Hamas militants stormed the border, taking hundreds hostage. More than 100 remain captive.

KORN: There are people who are not free. There are people who are underground or in turmoils. You cannot call it the freedom holiday because we're not free.

KAHN: Relatives of the hostages are asking families to place an empty chair at the table during the traditional meal, the Seder, to remember those still held. In a Passover Eve message, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his plans to expand Israel's offensive into Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah. More than a million displaced residents have sought refuge there from Israel's relentless assaults. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to local health officials. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow (ph) says he doesn't object to the Passover politics, even the use of the holiday's refrain let my people go.

YUVAL CHERLOW: It's not a bad slogan. It has even things that are right in it. But as a religious leader, I don't like cutting the sentence in the middle. I must say, let my people go in order to do the right things.

KAHN: Among those right things is to confront evil, which he says must be done with Hamas in Gaza. He has two sons fighting in the war. Hagay Lober's son, 24-year-old Yehonatan (ph), was killed in December in Gaza. More than 250 Israeli soldiers have died there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: Lober is at the large memorial to the hostages in downtown Tel Aviv. He says his family will celebrate.

HAGAY LOBER: We have in our heart two chambers. One is full of pain - and full, full.

KAHN: The other, he says, is still full of life.

LOBER: We are still alive. I had nine kids and now I have eight. So they are still alive, so I have to celebrate with them.

KAHN: Educator Sarah Korn says her celebration will also include hope for a long-term solution to end the cycle of war here.

KORN: Hamas has to be dismantled, but there also has to be a long-term solution for the Palestinians and for the fact that we don't have any other place to go. So we have to live together.

KAHN: All of us, she somberly adds.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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