More than any other holiday, Passover represents Jewish nationhood. Perhaps that is why 97 per cent of Jews in Israel take part in a Passover Seder, making it the most observed Jewish ritual.
The Passover season (and it’s a season here) is identifiable by massive sales — on clothing, homeware, food, garden furniture, you name it — as well as frenetic cooking, cleaning, preparing and, eventually, clearing up. Radio stations play songs from the Haggadah and announcers discuss their holiday plans.
There are bags of clothing to be given away (gleaned from the spring cleaning that often accompanies the ritual ridding the home of leavened bread); the queues at the car-wash involve an hour’s wait; and children bring home from school many wondrous creations that must be kept safe until Seder Night.
So much preparation for one evening. But, in that evening, we tell the story of our becoming a people. Of God’s rescuing us from bondage. Of the heroism of Jewish women and men whose actions collectively saved their people. The midwives’ resistance. A mother’s love. A sister’s determination. A stranger’s compassion. A reluctant leader. A loyal brother.
These are the heroes of the story we tell our children when they ask the questions that children have been asking for generations Ma Nishtana? Why is this night different from all other nights?
And religious or not, the answer is the same. At this point, we went from being a family joined in slavery to a nation united by redemption — with not only a collective history but a shared destiny.
And this destiny has brought us here, to modern-day Israel where we, too, celebrate Passover with a mass exodus. Freed from the bondage of cleaning and shopping, cooking and preparing, on the intermediate days of Passover, Israelis get out. Children have no school and many parents take time off from work (employers often count it as a half-day)
Thousands take to the twists and turns and rise and fall of Israel’s trails, each marked with colours on rocks, poles, and trees throughout the national parks. Every tzimmer (vacation cabin) is booked and sites register record numbers of visitors. Wild flowers still abound, the air is not yet too hot, and spring rains have filled the streams and rivers up north.
Others explore the museums, zoos, the new Jerusalem aquarium, open concerts, and so much more. Shuttles bring visitors to attractions and historical sites as the government joins the nationwide celebration. Those who loathe traffic and crowded spaces can go to the white, sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, where there is plenty of space for matkot, the Israeli beach version of ping pong (minus the table) building sand-castles, or just basking in the sun.
People discuss their plans on Facebook, giving advice, warnings and suggestions on what works for little kids, what’s too expensive, and what secret spots they’ve found that are perfect for picnics.
Calls of Chag Sameach and greetings of Moadim LaSimcha remind you that the bus driver, the TV announcer, and the guy who took your parking spot are all part of your nation.
In fact, it is these little things that make living here so special. At the risk of over-sharing, I will give you an example from last week. The supermarket online service from which I ordered some Passover groceries called. The woman told me they don’t have the exact Kashlap (Kosher for Passover) soup nuts I ordered and asks if can she give me another kind. They are square, not circular.
“Are they without kitniot (certain foods that are not bread but that many Jews don’t eat on Passover — a subject for another entire article)?
“Wai wai (Israeli oy vey), you should have put that in the notes…” Reads package: “It’s without kitniot, OK?”
“OK, great, thank you.”
I suddenly recalled that my children hate the square kind and called her back.
Hi, I’m so sorry, I just remembered, I think my kids hate that kind.
“Wai wai, yikirati (dear one), I closed the order. It will be a balagan now. I’m so sorry, neshama (another term of endearment but one I cannot truly translate).”
“Ah… OK,” I say. “Thank you, this should be the worst thing to happen…”
“Amen, neshama, you should just be healthy! You should have the best holiday!”
And I hung up, completely unruffled that I probably just lost some money and eminently happy that I live where I live, at the time when I live, with the people I am blessed to share it with. My nation.
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and activist