Rabbi Mende Cunin sits at a table set up for Passover on Wednesday in Reno. - Liz Margerum/RENO GAZETTE-JOURNALAs Jews gathered Wednesday in the Truckee Meadows for a Seder meal celebrating Passover, thoughts turned to the Israelis killed and wounded by a suicide bomber.

Rabbi Mendel Cunin of the Jewish outreach organization Chabad Northern Nevada said the Wednesday attack provides another reason for Jews to celebrate Seders with traditional meals.

“Eating this brings back more memories, it brings back the Jewish education,” Cunin said. “By eating the matzo, we remember how God has saved us from all the evil decrees and how he will save us from all the times we’re going through now.”

The eight days of Passover observe the exodus and freedom of Jews from ancient Egypt during the reign of the Pharaoh Ramses II.

Cunin said this latest in a string of bombings has damaged hopes for peace.

“I don’t look at it as a peace process,” Cunin said. “I think we have taken the wrong outlook from the beginning.”

Cunin said God helped the Jews secure the land of Israel in 1948, when it was created, and protected it in wars in 1968 and 1973.

“We have won this land in a miraculous way,” he said. “We shouldn’t be in a rush to give it up for a piece of paper.”

The Passover holiday began Wednesday at sundown and ends April 4. It commemorates Jews leaving ancient Egypt as slaves about 3,300 years ago and finding freedom in Israel.

Temple Emanu-el Rabbi Daniel Mehlman said Passover is a time to remember when the Jews were freed from Egypt, and Wednesday’s bombing is a reminder they shouldn’t take that freedom for granted.

He said he believes most Israelis do not support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“I think that the retaliations by Sharon’s government are a bit too much, but it’s really hard to see how else you can react to constant attacks. People feel very unsafe.”

If Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat can’t control the people in his territory, then he should turn over his government to someone who can, Mehlman said.

Reno lawyer Marc Picker, former president of Temple Sinai, was saddened that a terrorist would strike on a holy day.

“What they’ve done is use a day of peace for a religious group to strike terror,” Picker said. “At that point I think you invite retaliation.”

Abdul Barghouti of Reno, a Palestinian who moved to the United States from the West Bank in 1978, blamed the violence on the harsh conditions in which Palestinians must live, especially since Sharon took office about two years ago.

“At this point after almost two years of violence and killing, the Palestinians have lost more than a thousand people on their side,” Barghouti said.

“I don’t think the holidays or any other occasions will make a difference because the conditions have been harsh ever since Sharon took office. At this point, it is a cycle of violence that continues until both sides decide it will have to end.”

Barghouti said it takes 2½ hours for his brother on the West Bank to drive 8 miles to work because of Israeli roadblocks, searches and interrogations.

“The siege of the Palestinian territories that the Israelis have created has been a contributing factor to the violence,” Barghouti said. “I live in a very scary time. I’m on the phone every time with my family every time this happens.

“I think the formula for peace is very simple: End the occupation, end the injustice and you will have security. That is what many Israelis are calling for,” Barghouti said. “You can’t have peace without justice.”

Alan Gertler, a Desert Research Institute research professor and director of the atmospheric science programs at the University of Nevada, Reno has visited Israel several times since 1990.

“The whole situation is just incredibly sad,” said Gertler, a Temple Sinai member. “It’s degenerated so far in the past year and a half. . . . I hope it does not deteriorate any further. I hope it will reach the bottom.”

He has graduate students from Palestine and Jordan and works with people in Cairo.

“When people get away from being in the middle of it all and step back a bit, there’s pretty much an agreement something needs to be done,” Gertler said.

Temple Sinai member Deborah Achtenberg, a UNR philosophy professor, sees hope with a Middle East group like the Peace Coalition, made of Israelis and Palestinians who support the peace process.

“We can only hope that the actions of extremists don’t stand in the way of achieving peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Achtenberg said. “The future in that area lies not with the extremists but (with) the moderate and pragmatists who support the peace process.”