Co.Lab change-makers Bat Galim Shaer (left) and Chavi Ehrenfeld who bring a seder of acceptance and understanding to Israeli families with devastating loss from terrorism.

After losing a family member to terrorist attacks in Israel, the surviving family experiences an emotional upheaval. A small boy lonely without his big brother. A mother yearning for her daughter’s laugh. At holiday times, these feelings intensify, especially during a Passover seder when the empty chair at the table is a silent seat speaking volumes of pain.

For 17 years, Chavi Ehrenfeld has helped ease that pain through the Empty Chair Program, a welcoming seder for bereaved Israeli families. She was motivated to start the program after the 2002 suicide bombing during a seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya.

Chavi is also a successful Haredi business owner and one of the change-makers who participate in Co.Lab, an initiative created by UJA-Federation that brings together diverse segments of Israeli society to address pervasive issues of inequality.

Because of Chavi’s connections to Co.Lab, she has reached more communities and further developed the seder that brings together secular, modern Orthodox, and Haredi families. This year the seder included 180 people in a hotel in Rehovot.

Another Co.Lab change-maker, Bat Galim Shaer, whose son Gilad was one of three teens kidnapped and murdered in 2014, both participated and served as a volunteer at the seder. As a Co.Lab participant, Bat calls upon her vision for creating a world of tolerance and cooperation and her expertise as an educator.

Weaving a Spirit of Survival

In addition to a seder following Jewish law, or halachah, the next day the program also offered workshops in the hotel on coping with trauma.

“Families have no other option for Passover because of their loss. They cannot have a seder alone,” Chavi says. “The seder weaves a spirit of survival through melodies based on traditional Passover songs and Israeli folk lyrics. And the workshops help, too. The families arrive with agony and after two days they find an exodus out of the Egypt of their pain.”

Witnessing this transformation also renews Chavi’s determination to continue to provide the seder as needed. “Each year it gives me new strength to see how fulfilling this is for families.”