'It’s called the seder, but it won’t have any order'

Grandchildren of hostages don’t feel like celebrating Passover’s message of freedom

Relatives of elderly captives Alex Danzig, Chaim Peri and Shlomo Mansour struggle to imagine marking the holiday next week without their family’s patriarchs

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Hostage Chaim Peri (left) and his grandson, Mai Albini, at an earlier Passover in Kibbutz Nir Oz. (Screenshot/Courtesy)
Hostage Chaim Peri (left) and his grandson, Mai Albini, at an earlier Passover in Kibbutz Nir Oz. (Screenshot/Courtesy)

It feels impossible to celebrate the upcoming holiday of Passover, known as the festival of freedom, without her grandfather, Alex Dancyg, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz and is still held hostage in Gaza, said Talya Dancyg.

“I’m not free as long as my grandfather is still there,” said Talya, 18, during comments to reporters ahead of the holiday, which begins next week.

“He leads the show and tells the stories and the jokes,” she said of their family’s Passover traditions. “It’s called the Seder, but it won’t have any order,” she added, referring to the Hebrew meaning of “Seder.”

Alex Dancyg, 75, suffers from heart disease and was one of three older Kibbutz Nir Oz members kidnapped on October 7, with guns pointed at them, beaten by an angry crowd before being taken into hiding, said Talya, who said her family was given those details by other released hostages.

She said her grandfather takes medications that he doesn’t have in Gaza. A longtime history teacher who was born in Israel to Holocaust survivor parents, he gave history lessons to other hostages, his granddaughter said.

“I think he really knows everything,” Talya said, adding that when he spoke about the Holocaust to other hostages who were later released, they asked him to change the subject. “The idea of ‘never again’ broke their hearts.”

Talya Dancyg as a baby with her grandfather, hostage Alex Dancyg (upper left), Noam Safir with her grandfather, hostage Shlomo Mansour (upper right) and hostage Chaim Peri and his grandson, May Albini, bottom (Courtesy)

Israel believes 129 hostages taken captive on October 7 are still being held in the Strip, with at least 34 of them already confirmed dead. Earlier this month Hamas officials said they did not have 40 living hostages who fit the categories of women, children, the elderly and the sick, raising fears that more hostages could be dead than is already known.

The thought of their elderly grandparents experiencing the atrocities and terrors that they or their families underwent 75 years earlier brought the grandchildren to tears during their comments on Wednesday.

Noam Safir, 20, granddaughter of 86-year-old Shlomo Mansour, the oldest current hostage, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Kissufim, spoke about her Iraqi-born grandfather’s early years, when his family was caught in the Farhud massacre, where Jews were killed, raped, tortured, kidnapped and assaulted, their homes and stores looted and burned.

Talya Danzig, granddaughter of hostage Alex Danzig, speaks about Passover 2024 without her grandfather (Screenshot)

“He hid on a roof and cried,” said Safir. “He went through a second Holocaust on October 7.”

Her grandfather was in his pajamas when the terrorists shot through the safe room door of his Kissufim house. Her grandmother managed to escape to a neighbor’s safe room, but Mansour was taken captive.

Mansour, who marked his 86th birthday on March 17, is Safir’s maternal grandfather. While the family will gather on Passover for a small Seder, saving an empty seat for her grandfather, “it won’t be the same as previous years, it’s less of a celebration and more of marking the holiday,” said Safir. “My mother doesn’t have the energy to cook, so we’ll order food.”

Mai Albini’s grandfather, Chaim Peri, also marked a birthday last weekend, his 80th, while in captivity. Albini, 29, said his grandfather’s biggest worry is not knowing whether he saved his wife’s life.

Osnat Peri, Albini’s grandmother, survived the October 7 assault on their home in Kibbutz Nir Oz because her husband hid her in the safe room while he confronted the terrorists.

Mai Albini, grandson of hostage Chaim Peri, speaking about Passover 2024 without his grandfather (Screenshot)

“They got into Grandpa’s house three times,” said Albini. “The second time, he grabbed the terrorist and pushed him down, knowing he would then come back with backup. None of that surprised us.”

When the terrorists returned, they took Peri, but didn’t find his wife, Osnat.

“Grandpa sacrificed his freedom, so how can we celebrate the holiday of freedom while 133 hostages don’t have theirs?” said Albini, adding that his family will meet for a small dinner on the first night of Passover and read the Haggadah together.

“Let our grandfathers go,” added Danzig. “194 days is too much.”

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