An Uncomfortable Question for the Seder Table

Dave Schechter
4 min readMar 13, 2024

Much of the audience that came to the closing night film at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (a documentary about ventriloquist and puppeteer Shari Lewis) was, as the phrase goes, of a certain age.

Afterward, as men filed in and out of a restroom, I heard a snippet of conversation.

“We had three channels,” one fellow said.

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“We only had two in Savannah,” the other said.

Then they shared a common boyhood memory, choosing up sides for pick-up games of baseball and playing until it was dark out and time to go home.

“No umpires. If we had an argument, we had a do-over,” one of them said.

“Kids don’t have do-overs anymore,” the other lamented.

Life rarely offers the opportunity for a do-over (and that includes elections).

No doubt you can think back to decisions made or not-made (the non-decision decision concept familiar to political science majors), words spoken or not spoken, actions taken or not taken — and wonder where life would have taken you if you had taken the other fork in the road.

There are genres of literature and television programs based on “what if.” What if this or that leader had not been assassinated? What if this or that side had won the war rather than been defeated? What if the victor had been more magnanimous in dealing with the vanquished?

Or, in current terms: What if the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Southern Israel had not happened?

The underlying issues between Israelis and the Palestinians would have remained as they were on Oct. 6, and, yes, Hamas probably would have continued to fire rockets into Israel.

It also seems fair, though, to suggest that not only would the 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals slaughtered on Oct. 7 still be alive, but so would some 20,000 or more residents of Gaza, the low end of the estimated death toll in Israel’s retaliation against Hamas.

And — as of March 11–134 kidnapped men, women, and children would not be suffering through a 157th day as captives (though the Israeli government believes that upwards of 30 may no longer be alive).

The massive weekly protests by Israelis against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposing his proposed “reform” of the judicial system, probably would have continued and, perhaps, brought down the government and put the country on the path to elections.

Antisemitism no doubt would still percolate above and below the surface of society, but we likely would not be experiencing the global spike in anti-Israel zealotry — which too often has crossed a line from opposition of a government to threatening the lives and livelihoods of Jewish individuals because they are Jewish, irrespective of their opinions on the Israel-Palestinian question.

But Oct. 7 did happen. There are no do-overs.

So, the families of the hostages — including the one I am attached to, as a leaf on a branch on the opposite side of a family tree — live a kind of “Groundhog Day” hell in which every day is Oct. 7.

The families of Israelis killed on Oct. 7 and those killed since continue to grieve. Most of the geography known as the Gaza strip has been reduced to rubble. Some two million Palestinians have been displaced from homes that no longer exist.

An interesting question was raised at a recent forum with Atlanta rabbis and communal leaders returned from a week-long trip to Israel.

One of the rabbis asked: While we grieve for the Israelis killed on and since Oct. 7, can we not grieve in some fashion for the lost lives of Palestinians — even if we believe that the war, or some part of the war, was necessary?

Judging by the reaction of the audience at a local synagogue, some in the room felt capable of grieving for all of the lives lost, while others reserve that emotion solely for Israelis.

A friend reminded me that during the Seder, when we spill the 10 drops of wine, it is to recognize, if not to mourn, the lives lost when — as the Haggadah tells it — G-d visited 10 plagues on the Egyptians, who had so embittered the lives of the Israelites, afflicting not only the taskmasters but every man, woman, and child in the kingdom.

We are about six weeks away from Passover.

When it comes time to spill the 10 drops of wine, I imagine that the rabbi’s uncomfortable question might be raised at some Seder tables.

Originally published at on March 13, 2024.