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Seder Is About Family, Food, Freedom. And Now, It’s Also About the War.

Bonnie Rosenfeld had 38 people crowded into her home in Rockaway, N.J., on Monday night. She has hosted Passover Seders for years, but none that felt quite like this. She wanted to address “the elephant in the room” up front.

So as they lit candles to mark the start of the holiday, they also recited a set of prayers alluding to the war in Gaza — for the remaining Israeli hostages, for peace, for the horrors unfolding, she said, on both sides.

It was, in her eyes, a recognition of the obvious:

“This night is different,” said Ms. Rosenfeld, invoking the Four Questions traditionally recited on the holiday. “This Seder is different.”

That sentiment echoed around the country this week, as families and groups of friends gathered for the start of Passover amid the complicated swirl of emotions and fiery political debates stirred by the monthslong Israel-Hamas war.

The festive holiday, for many, has instead felt solemn. And its familiar rituals, this year, have seemed anything but routine.

Dining chairs were left empty in symbolic remembrance of the remaining hostages. Guest lists were trimmed to avert interpersonal disharmony. Old stories and prayers took on new meaning. Timeworn rituals were tweaked to accommodate the off-kilter mood of the moment. Swords were crossed over generational lines.

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