Dear Sisters,

As the holiday of Passover approaches, many of us are busy planning for the holiday. Many of us will be hosting large Seders. For me, I eagerly count down the days, waiting for my married daughter and her wonderful husband to spend this joyous time with us. I am honored, too, that my parents will be joining our Seders, providing memories that I know my children will cherish for a lifetime.

As the pace of the many preparations for Passover becomes more frantic for us Jewish mothers, within our work we find joy. A joy in remembering the freedom we were given long ago. An appreciation for the freedom that we are experiencing in our free countries today. What better a time to celebrate than with our families, loved ones and extended guests!

And as I go about my busy preparations, I can't help but think of another Jewish mother, whose preparations cannot be full of joy.

A mother who is consumed daily with questions about when her son will be returned to her. A mother who cannot experience freedom while her son languishes in the cruel tentacles of his kidnappers. A mother who nightly, for the last 1,000 nights, has searched into the black night wondering how her child is faring.

My mind simply cannot comprehend what Aviva Shalit is experiencing. The haunted fear. The agony. The torturous existence. The all-consuming emptiness each morning as she passes by Gilad's empty bedroom and agonizes over his wellbeing.

As Jewish mothers, we all know we'd give our last slice of bread for our children. Our children's pain and challenges hurt us more than our own and become deeply etched in our hearts.

And so, as I joyously set my Passover Seder table, I imagine Aviva going through the same steps, but with such different emotions. A mother simply cannot sense freedom when her son is being held hostage.

In my mind's eye, I see an image of a broken mother suffused by an unquenchable emptiness in the pit of her soul, a sadness that does not diminish, and a longing that has been her constant companion for close to three long years.

As Aviva sets her own Seder table, she will undoubtedly leave an empty seat for her Gilad. She will be praying with only the faith that a Jewish mother can access, that her precious child will be returned and sit in his designated seat, right next to her at their Seder table.

Gilad's empty chair reminds me of how activists for Soviet Jewry throughout the 1960s and 1970s called for adding an empty chair and setting aside an extra matzah at the Seder table as a stark reminder of the 3 million Soviet Jews who were not free to attend a Seder.

The Rebbe, however, was not pleased with his suggestion. Aside from expressing his firm belief that the move was a tactical blunder that would only serve to further alienate the Soviets, he decried the notion as fundamentally wrong.

“So you have an empty chair,” he said in the days leading up to Passover 1970. “Go out into the street where you live, and find Jews who don’t know how to celebrate the Seder, or don’t even know what a Seder is, and sit them down at your Seder table!”

So, as these days quickly come closer, I think of Aviva's empty chair at her Seder, set up for her Gilad. And I think, dear sisters, that we cannot, must not, dare not, stand by and allow Gilad's chair to remain empty this Passover. We must not and cannot rest complacently until Gilad is reunited with his family.

What can we do? Honestly, I do not know. I turn to you, dear sisters, for a plan of action.

Each of us need not do the same thing, but each of us must act.

Whether it is to petition the Israeli government to close all the borders of Gaza and let its people feel the sting of a son who has been separated from his parents for far too long... We cannot, must not, dare not, stand by and allow Gilad's chair to remain empty this Passover. whether it is to write to the United States government to withhold all their humanitarian aid until the most humanitarian thing is accomplished—that a young boy who dutifully went out to guard his country's borders is freed from his cruel oppressors...whether it is to pray daily, say a chapter of Psalms for Gilad's release or take upon ourselves to do an extra act of kindness daily in his merit...or whether it is to encourage another Jewish woman to light Shabbat or holiday candles to fill our world with more spiritual light...I look to you for suggestions.

All I do know is that this Passover we must do whatever we can to ensure that the Shalits fully experience the festival of liberation.

And I know that we must not allow Gilad's Seder seat to remain empty. We must fill it with a smiling, reunited Gilad.

Aviva understands that her son was taken only because he is a Jew. Because he was protecting his homeland. Because he was living amongst those who hate our very presence, who abhor our heritage and the G‑dly gift of our Land.

Even thousands of years ago, before we received the Torah, we were a nation that was different. We kept to ourselves. We had our own names and our own language, and most of all, our own culture. We stood apart; we held on to a different value system. We had a different genealogy and ancestry. And because we did, we were hated.

We were hated by the Pharaohs that ruled the country. We were hated by his advisors and astrologers. We were hated by each and every one of our neighbors. Our very existence was a thorn in their eyes.

So they beat us; they kidnapped our children and threw them to their deaths in their Nile. And they worked us mercilessly. They tortured our bodies and our psyches. We became a frightened, downtrodden nation.

So we prayed to G‑d, and He liberated us.

He showed us an outpouring of love. A torrent of kindness in the midst of an overwhelming brutal callousness. He performed great miracles to restore a semblance of justice to our world.

He returned our humanity to us. What can we do? I turn to you for suggestions. From a beaten, oppressed nation, we became His beloved children, with whom He would make an eternal covenant articulating His everlasting love for us. He gave us hope and He gave us a future. And He bequeathed to us our own, holy home and Land as an everlasting present.

This Passover, May G‑d answer our prayers again.