True Story: Passover Seder in Syrian Prison
It was the strangest of scenes. We were in a high security prison celebrating with song the generations-old holiday of our freedom.
On Thursday, April 2, 1970, the Israeli Air Force attacked Syrian tanks and artillery in the Golan Heights. Three Syrian MIG jets were downed, as well as one Israeli Phantom jet.
Israeli pilot Gidon Magen and navigator Pinny Nachmani parachuted out of the jet safely, but were captured by the Syrian enemy. They sat the next three years in the high-security Mezze military prison in Damascus where they spent four Seder nights, the festive first night of Passover.
Writing on small pieces of toilet and wrapping paper, Pinny kept a secret diary of 300 pages; he made the following entry after their second Seder night in 1971:
The Pesach (Passover) holiday has passed, the quintessential national holiday of the Jews. We are amongst the few who are prevented from celebrating with our families. It’s difficult to describe the Passover atmosphere in Syrian prison. On the morning before, we meticulously cleaned our cell (removing any crumbs of leavened bread) in a way that the cement floor had never been cleaned before.
On cardboard, we drew a Seder plate, with a Star of David in the middle and room to place each ingredient on the six protrusions of the star.
In the afternoon, we succeed in organizing permission to shower, albeit in freezing water, after which we donned our holiday clothes and anxiously waited for the beginning of the holiday (at nightfall). These were difficult hours of contemplation – the memories which swelled up to the point that we choked as we recalled our homes, and tried to feel the atmosphere of Pesach as sundown approached, and sense the distinct smells of the late afternoon.
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