During a press conference held by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu last week in Jerusalem, the president referenced Benjamin Netanyahu’s late brother, Yoni, and the letters that he wrote. Yoni, a prolific writer, was commander of the elite Israeli special-operations unit Sayeret Matkal, and was killed during the mission to rescue Israeli hostages from the airport in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976. His letters were later compiled into a collection, and one missive in particular, written in March 1975, just over a year before he died, is worth sharing on the eve of Passover:
I’d like to quote it in full:
Bruria [Yoni’s girlfriend],
Tomorrow is Passover.
I’ve always thought it the most wonderful of all our holidays. It’s an ancient celebration of freedom–a thousands-of-years-old liberty. When I sail back over the seas of our history, I pass through long years of suffering, of oppression, of massacres, of ghettos, of banishments; of humiliation; many years that, in a historical perspective, seem devoid of any ray of light, yet it isn’t so. For the fact that the idea of freedom remained, that the hope persisted, that the flame of liberty continued to burn through the observance of this ancient festival, is to me testimony of the eternity of the striving for freedom and the idea of freedom in Israel.
In this search through our past we come upon other periods–of tranquility and liberty, when we were the People of the Land as well as the People of the Book. Yet even then Passover was celebrated with the same ardor, for freedom is precious and its remembrance, long.
And there were other periods–of transitions from bondage to liberty, periods of riding and revolt–and it is of those that Passover reminds me most of all. When I say Passover–the Feast of Freedom–I think at once of the Hasmonaeans and the Bar-Kokhba Revolt and the Exodus and Joshua’s conquest of the Land.
Of course then, too–as in our times–there were many shameful periods in our history, for which we can only blame ourselves, but that’s beside the point.
I also have a special feeling about Passover because of the Seder, which for me, as for all of us, stirs up personal memories of the past. I clearly remember one Seder in Talpiot, in Jerusalem, when I was six. Among the guests were white-bearded old men like Rabbi Binyamin and Professor Klausner, and my father was there too, and others I don’t remember, and there was a big table and much light, and I was in a completely perfect world, and I kept absorbing it and absorbing it. Storing up impressions of a great and beautiful world with myself in it–taking it in, as it were, to sort it all out in adulthood–yet today I know it wasn’t in order to sort it out, but to treasure it that I took it all in.
Last year I celebrated the Seder with my men in a big tent near a tel in the Syrian enclave that was being shelled, and that too was a wonderful Seder in its way.
My yearning for the past mingles with my longing for you, and because of you I find myself in my past, and find the time and the desire to reminisce in order to share my life with you. Yet by “past” I mean not only my own past, but the way in which I see myself as an inseparable part, link in the chain of our existence and Israel’s independence.
Chag Sameach to all of our Jewish readers.