My observations of Passover in Israel

I grew up from the age of five in Canada, and lived in Israel as a student at the Hebrew University, many years ago and then in the US. More recently over the last year, I have been living in Israel while studying at a Women’s Jewish studies program called Shviti in Jerusalem.

The Jewish calendar is an education in itself – And living in Israel one gets to experience it as a living thing. So our school is on recess for the month of Nissan, the month of Passover to allow both students and teachers to fulfill the obligations of Passover towards, self, family and community. And this goes on in the whole country. As preparation for Pesach, some people seek to examine their personal state of servitude, their personal slavery, and explore how to be released from it. But as much as Pesach can be a personal stocktaking, it is also very much a communal  endeavor.

From the beginning of the month of Nissan, the month of the Passover/Pesach, every Jewish person and Jewish community begins preparations for the holiday, by:

  1. cleaning and getting rid of leavened bread and leavened bread products from every personal habitation – home workplace community center
  2. by studying the story of the exodus from Egypt and preparing for the seder night by studying the Torah portions pertaining to the exodus story and also reviewing the mitzvot/obigations. i.e. What to do and what not to do during this period in order to be able to have a fulfilling and “kosher” Passover/Pesach with family and friends. During this month we greet each other with the Hebrew words, “hag kasher vesameach” – May you have a kosher and joyous hag.

My own family history is intimately connected to the Exodus story – a going out from slavery to freedom. In 1949, when I was three years old and my dear sister Anita, was only one year old, my mother and her brother Tibi, set out on the last night of Passover, after having set the holiday table – so that no suspicions would be aroused – at the family home in Tokay, Hungary.

They left the house to cross the border by foot during the night from Hungary into Czechoslovakia, and from there secretly to Vienna, Austria – gateway to the free world of the West at the time. They succeeded and that is why I am here today to tell the tale. This is my story, but it is also the story of all of the Jewish people as it says in the Haggada – the prescribed book which details all of the story and traditions practiced at  the seder table on the Eve of Peasach.

Everyone in the community, in Israel and anywhere in the world, needs to be provided for, both for the seder and for the holiday, with matzoh and all Passover foods. Leket is an organization in Israel dedicated to collecting food and distributing it to the needy, all year round, and especially on Passover. Leket relies year around on volunteers and donations. “Leket” is a Hebrew word from the Torah. It refers to a practice prescribed by our Torah of leaving the corners of the agricultural fields to be harvested by whoever wants to or needs to – so that there be no one who goes hungry in the land of Israel.

In addition to major organizations like Leket in Israel, every Rabbi and Jewish congregation anywhere in the world, will have its own private collections for providing for those in need in their particular community. Passover is expensive and it tests our relationship with material things.

After the recitation of the story in the Haggada on Seder night and after the festive meal comes the reciting of the traditional prayers of gratitude to the Creator and Sustainer, the Hallel service and then the traditional songs – Dayeinu, Ehad mi Yodaya and Had Gadya.

Wishing you all a hag kasher vesameach.