Matzo Madness! Celebrating Passover in Israel
It’s that time of year again! Jews everywhere have cleaned out their pantries and refrigerators and cooked up a storm for Pesach. As you might guess, the ‘concepts’ are the same no matter where in the world you celebrate: Clean out the chametz, have a Seder and tell the story of Pesach, eat a lot of special foods, eat even more of those special foods, drink 4 cups of wine, pour some for Elijah, celebrate with friends and family. However, there are some things that we’ve discovered that are unique to Israel during Pesach. IM is happy to share some of these with our readers!
One Seder or Two
One major difference between Passover in Israel vs. the rest of the Jewish world is that Israelis have only one Seder, on the first night of Pesach. Most Jews elsewhere have two Seders, on the first two nights of the holiday. So why is that?
In ancient times, the beginning of a new lunar month was determined by direct observation of the new moon. This observation had to be confirmed by the authorities in Jerusalem. In many distant Jewish communities, it was impossible to get reliable confirmation from Jerusalem, so it became the practice to observe an extra day of Passover (and the other pilgrimage holidays – Shavuot, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret) just in case they had gotten the date wrong. Even though we have reliable calendars today, it is still the practice of Orthodox and Conservative Jews living outside of Israel to celebrate the second day of the holidays – hence, two seders and what amounts to an extra day of Passover.
Family Fun During the Week of Passover
In Israel and in the USA, life certainly doesn’t shut down during Passover – but in Israel, Pesach week is kind of like “spring break.” Since schools and many businesses close during the holiday, Israelis have a lot of fun during Passover. During the holiday week, lots of Israeli museums open their doors for free, and there are many outdoor festivals, concerts, nature activities and holiday events in every city. Because it’s such a great season weather-wise, many Israeli families take the opportunity to spend time during Pesach hiking and camping with their friends and families in one of the many parks and nature preserves. These areas are especially beautiful during springtime, and include flowing streams and waterfalls that by mid-summer are only trickling or even dry.
Eating out is also easy during Passover in Israel, since a number of restaurants go Kosher for Passover and have special menus just for the week. There’s even a Kosher for Passover “potato bread” that is made and served in many restaurants and cafes.
Of course, Jews around the world have unique seder traditions… different tunes, recipes, stories and even Passover jokes. (“What did the lion say at the seder? How do you like Ma-roar?” … Oy!)
Israel is a diverse country with Jews from different ethnic backgrounds and customs that are reflected in the Passover Seder. For example, the seder plate at Israeli Moroccan seders is similar to ours, but they have the tradition of circling the seder plate over the heads of guests while singing a song of blessing.
Yemenite Jews don’t have a seder plate. Instead, the entire table is utilized as the seder plate, with vegetables and other traditional items arranged beautifully around the table in small bowls or dishes. Some Yemenite families also perform a special dance called the “dance of Elijah” at the end of the seder. Orthodox Yemenite Jews also have a tradition of visiting the graves of righteous individuals during Passover,
particularly the grave of Shalom Shabazi, a revered Yemenite Jewish poet and religious figure.
“Next year in Jerusalem” at Seders in Jerusalem?
When you get to the end of your Haggaddah, it’s likely the last thing you’ll say or read is, “L’shanah, haba’a b’Yerushalayim!” – meaning, “next year in Jerusalem!” But what do you say if you are conducting your seder in Jerusalem? Instead of saying “next year in Jerusalem,” some people who are in Jerusalem say “next year in a built Jerusalem”. The idea is that you are hoping that by next year, the temple will be rebuilt.
Some of us (you know who you are) rearrange our homes to squeeze as many people as possible into our seders! In Israel, it’s not uncommon for people to have big seders, often with 30 or more guests! Frequently held outside (Israel’s climate is pretty wonderful during Pesach-time), these celebrations can be huge. In fact, “communal seders” have become more and more common. with hundreds or even thousands of people attending. These seders may take place in public spaces such as parks, town squares, community centers and hotels, where families celebrate together by arranging tables together.
Communal seders in Israel may include customs that are unique to the country, such as singing Israeli folk songs, reading passages from Israeli literature, or incorporating Israeli symbols such as the Israeli flag into the seder. Communal seders in Israel are sometimes attended by soldiers who may be serving far from home. This adds a special dimension to the seder, as it provides an opportunity for the community to show their support for the soldiers and for the soldiers to feel connected to their larger Israeli community.
The largest seder ever held was in Tel Aviv in 2014, with over 2,500 people in attendance. The seder was held in a large outdoor tent and included a traditional Passover meal, songs, and prayers.
You Scream, I Scream, We all Scream for Pesach Ice Cream!
Ben & Jerry’s Israel (independently owned and operated and not affiliated with the Ben & Jerry’s company based in the United States) typically releases limited edition Passover flavors during the holiday season, but the flavors may vary from year to year. Some recent Passover flavors include:
•Coconut Macaroon: Coconut-flavored ice cream with chunks of macaroons
•Chocolate Orange: Chocolate ice cream with pieces of orange-flavored jelly candy
•Matzo Crunch: Vanilla ice cream with chunks of matzo toffee
•Charoset: Vanilla ice cream blended with grape juice, chunks of apples and nuts
What, No Matzo Balls???
You won’t find matzo balls in the Sephardic and Mizrachi family seders in Israel. In contrast to most American seders made up of Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardi/Mizrachi seders are permitted to eat kitniyot, the Hebrew word for “legumes,” including beans, corn and rice. These were banned during Passover in the 13th century for fear of unintentional mixing or substitution for wheat ingredients. In an Israeli seder, you are also more likely to see traditionally Israeli -style foods, like salads, hummus and falafel.
Charoset is one of the traditional seder foods that many Israelis make differently than most of us. In addition to apples, nuts, spices and wine, Israeli Jews include dates in their charoset. Although this combination originated with Sephardic and Mizrachi families, it is so delicious that it has been adopted by the majority of Israeli households as well.
Passover Ends, the Party Continues! Mimouna!
At the end of Pesach, while Americans are still observing one additional day of the holiday, Israelis are celebrating Mimouna (see May 2022 Israel Matters). This is when Israelis return to eating all foods and boy, do they have some delicious ones that come out at Mimouna celebrations!
Mimouna is a North African Jewish festival that originated in Morocco and was brought to Israel by Jewish immigrants from North Africa. The festival is marked by feasting, music, and dancing, and it is customary to eat a variety of sweet and savory pastries, such as mufletas (Moroccan pancakes), stuffed dates, and honey cakes.
During Mimouna, neighbors visit each other’s homes, and it is common for Israeli politicians to make appearances and give speeches. The festival has become a popular cultural event in Israel, and many non-Jewish Israelis also participate in the celebrations.
The Expression “Acharei Pesach”
When Israelis procrastinate, they put off whatever it is they are avoiding by saying they’ll get to it “acharei Pesach” (literally, after Passover). This expression can be used 365 days a year, not just during Passover. Need to clean out the garage? Acharei Pesach. Have all those bottles to recycle? Acharei Pesach. Need to write another Israel Matters column? Acharei Pesach