April 8, 2024
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Pesach in Israel: Full of Camaraderie and Good Will

(Courtesy of Naale Elite Academy) If you take a stroll down Jerusalem’s main street, Yaffo, a few days before Pesach, you’ll encounter rivers of sudsy water coursing down the pavement, wending their way around upturned tables and chairs.

It’s not because small business owners and food chains are anticipating a zombie apocalypse and are chaotically sandbagging the place, but because it’s almost the holiday of Pesach where bread is “verboten.” As always, the advent of Pesach signals a nationwide spring cleaning.

Every corner is power washed in preparation for the holiday, which has matzah, the poor man’s bread, at its center. Not one crumb of bread is spared, and Jews scour the nooks and crannies of their living spaces in order to rid themselves of this inflated, proud, baked good.

There is not a pita, or laffa, or challah roll to be found anywhere.

Every restaurant switches over its kitchens to kosher Passover mode, and the entire country is in a flurry of mega shopping and cooking. Government offices close down and school is out.

To students coming from abroad, the country’s complete seven-day halt, where most people sustain themselves on potato-based foods and many others take extended day trips, it seems like an odd or difficult time. One glance at the grocery store shelves may seem like Israel is a Pesach wonderland. Everything is stamped with a “Kosher for Pesach,” symbol from Kariyot cereal to corn-based noodles. Upon second glance, the warning that the food is indeed Kitniyot becomes apparent.

For those who hail from the Sefardi tradition, this is a dream come true. For those of Asheknazi descent, Pesach just became a little harder. Those who have celebrated Pesach in other countries often find the experience in Israel positive, if different.

“In Israel you really feel the avira (environment) of Pesach, just like on all holidays, wherever you go,” said Racheli, a student from Naale Elite Academy, a boarding school program that brings students from around the world to complete high school in Israel on a full scholarship.

“Even if you come from a community with many other Jews, it will never feel the same as in Israel.” Racheli, who attends Amana, a religious school within the Naale program, elaborates. “Here in Israel, everyone around you is celebrating. The buses have special messages wishing you a chag sameach, all supermarkets only sell kosher-for-Pesach food and much more. And the fact that there is only one seder doesn’t hurt.”

Gila Ginzberg, current student at The Technion American Medical School, which offers a first-class Israeli education to future doctors, notes how different it felt in Canada, where she grew up. “When I was in Canada, while it felt like Pesach when I was at home with my family, the moment you stepped out the front door it was as if it didn’t exist… It’s so different in Israel. Everywhere you go you know it’s Pesach. This can be both positive and negative; it’s much easier to find all the stuff you need for Pesach here (especially if you eat kitniyot).”

It can be said that Pesach is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about Israeli culture.

Many memories are made around the seder table. As a holiday of closeness, storytelling and challenging food restrictions, it can create truly memorable times.

Gila recalls this of Pesach and had this to say about how it feels celebrating it in Israel:

“For us, hosting a seder was really important, because we have no family in Israel, but we still wanted that homey feeling. We loved having a mix of students come from all backgrounds because everyone has something different to contribute to the seder: a seder tradition, a song, a recipe etc. Each person at the seder contributes in their own way and each year our seders have been unique! Last year we did ‘Pesach on the couch’ and sat on pillows on the floor and couches, a suggestion from a fellow student, and it was our best seder yet.”

Young and old students from abroad have learned to appreciate the unique character of an Israeli Pesach and often find it more enjoyable and interesting in the Holy Land.

Students from Naale can choose between remaining in Israel with host families or visiting their families, with many choosing to celebrate in Israel for the unique experience it brings.

Some are grateful that they don’t have to return to their parents’ home for the holiday. “Not cleaning the kitchen with your mom is great, cause the cleaners will clean the kitchen. That’s a definite upside to doing Pesach in Israel,” said one relieved Naale student from Amana.

At the Technion American Medical School, students aren’t exactly grieving either. No one seems to be pining after the lack of bread.

“In terms of not being able to get bread, those who do want bread on Pesach know after the first year that they have to stock up in advance, so I think as long as the students are warned before their first Pesach it won’t be a big issue,” posited Gila.

It’s also true that because the entire country switches gear, it often allows the TeAMS students a chance to breathe and truly take a break from their studies. It gives them an opportunity to get to know the country that’s hosting them during medical school.

Whatever your inclination or denomination, Pesach in Israel is a unique experience for those who have never experienced it.

To learn more about the Naale Elite Academy free high school in Israel see www.naale-elite-academy.com, and to learn more about the Technion American Medical School see www.teams.technion.ac.il.

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