Saturday, January 28, 2023

Jews everywhere celebrate Pesach with the same familiar traditions. But you’d be surprised how many regional traditions there are. While we are joined by a common heritage, no two Jewish communities are the same. Israel is the ultimate Jewish melting pot with olim from around the world bringing their local customs with them.

Though you may be familiar with Pesach in your hometown, isn’t it interesting how Pesach is celebrated differently all around the world? To learn more about global Pesach traditions, 10 students at Naale Elite Academy in Israel, a high school program that brings Jewish teens from around the world to study in Israel on a full scholarship, were asked one simple question. These students, each from a different locale, were asked, “When you think of Pesach in ___________ (your hometown), what do you associate it with?”

Liel Egdes; Johannesburg, South Africa: “I think of Geshmurta matzah in abundance. It’s like cheesecake batter baked onto matzah with cinnamon and sugar on top. It’s the perfect encapsulation of Pesach in South Africa!”

Ariella Dobin; Texas: “Usually the rodeo comes to town before Pesach starts, but if it’s still going on during Chol Hamoed it’s a popular outing activity. If the rodeo is not in town, Texans will drive four hours to go to the beach in South Padres Island, on the Gulf of Mexico. And jalapeños. Since many people in my Lubavitch community in Houston use their own seasonings, they use jalapeños to spice up the food. Jalapeños are popular here; people even grow them in their backyards. And I also think of our Mashiach Seuda, which happens on the last day of Pesach.”

Raphael Slama; Paris, France: “I always remember a special Pesach French-Moroccan dish we make every year: lamb cooked with prunes—it’s always finished as soon as it gets to the table… especially by me!”

Elana Frisch; Boca Raton, Florida: “The extreme humidity and the heat. As soon as I get off the plane, I’m immediately hit by a wave of humidity. And I associate Pesach with lots of New Yorkers, the hotel scene, a lot of tourists. The beaches are always crowded with Jews bringing their own picnics!”

Shira Abargel; Montreal, Canada: “When I think of Montreal, I think of the Chabad. They invite people to their homes for Leil Haseder and are constantly spreading the Pesach energy before and during Pesach.”

Keren Gawendo; Sao Paulo, Brazil: “Lots of Brazilians are from Sepharad, so we have lots of dancing and singing at our sedarim. I also associate Pesach with specific foods we make in our community: rice-filled grape leaves and Batata assada—a dish with potatoes and cheese, to dip the matzah in, which every Brazilian grandma makes!”

Georgiy Balura; Dresden, Germany: “I associate Pesach with our central synagogue, which is one of the few synagogues in Germany. And because the German community is very Christian, I unfortunately always associate Pesach with Easter-related paraphernalia all around the town!”

While these teens have chosen to complete their high school education in Israel, most will be traveling home for Pesach, and they’ll be experiencing the familiar sights, sounds and—perhaps most importantly—unique regional tastes of Pesach.

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