Chicago-area Jews celebrate first Passover since Israel-Hamas War

For many Jews, the first Passover since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack holds special significance.

Carol Cohen visited Chicago from London for the holiday.

“I feel guilty being here, all dressed up with these lovely people, we’re going to have a wonderful evening, and our brethren, the hostages, God knows what’s happening to them,” Cohen said. “And I feel as a Jew, as a proud Jew … I just feel that I should be here, we have to embrace every holiday otherwise they’ve won.”

Cohen was among the dozens of practicing Jews to observe the first night of Passover Monday evening at a Seder at a hotel in the Gold Coast neighborhood, celebrated by Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in downtown Chicago. Armed security was present at the door.

Passover commemorates ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. Observant Jews will gather with family and friends at the Seder to recount the Moses-led escape from captivity. Some avoid eating grains, known as chametz, in remembrance of their ancestors who fled Egypt with no time to wait for bread to rise.

More than 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack that left 1,200 Israelis dead.

In the months since, Israeli Defense Forces have carried out strikes targeting Hamas, killing more than 34,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children. Meanwhile, concerns over anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have surged in Jewish and Muslim communities across the United States.

Eva, a 14-year-old girl from Oak Park, attended Monday’s Seder with her mother. She shared with the Tribune that she’s faced harassment at school in the months since the Oct. 7 attack.

“It’s very hard to be my age during this. It’s very divided. A lot of people want to tell me what to think because of my age, and (I) don’t know what I’m talking about,” said Eva, whose mother declined to share their family surname. “They’d rather have Hamas in this world than have Jews, and that’s really hard.”