Passover is a seven-day holiday, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. On this holiday, we celebrate the freedom of the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt. We gather, eat the traditional food of the holiday, and retell the story of the exodus by reading from the Haggadah. It is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, hence one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar. So… How can you celebrate Passover in Israel? Here are 5 ways to celebrate the holiday.
Just keep in mind that public transportation does not operate on Passover Eve and the first day of the holiday. This year (2023), it falls on 5-13 April. Stores, restaurants, and attractions will also be closed on these dates.
Learn more about Passover by watching this video by Israel:
When is Passover celebrated?
This year (2023), Passover will begin at sundown on 5 April and end at nightfall on 13 April. Every year, the date is slightly different. That’s because we celebrate our holidays according to the Hebrew calendar, which is different from the widely used Gregorian calendar. Passover begins every year on the 15th day of the seventh Hebrew month, Nisan. Usually, this day falls in April.
Why is Passover called Passover?
To explain why Passover is called “Passover,” you need to understand the story of the exodus from Egypt. The Israelites suffered from slavery in Egypt, and GOD saw their distress. So, he sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Let my people go.” But Pharaoh refused. GOD cast ten plagues on Egypt until Pharoah changed his mind. The last plague was the Death of the Firstborn Sons. One of the sons that died was Pharoah’s son. The firstborn sons of the Israelite people were saved because GOD “passed over” their houses. That’s why we call the holiday “Passover” or in Hebrew, “Pesach.”
5 ways to celebrate Passover in Israel
Forget about bread. Eat matzah!
When the Israelites left Egypt, they did it in a hurry. They baked bread but didn’t have enough time to wait for the dough to rise. So, the bread they took with them was unleavened flatbread, called matzah. That’s why we eat matzah on Passover – to remember the miracle of the Exodus of Egypt. If you want to experience the holiday spirit, you can also try to change your habits, ditch the bread, and try eating matzah for a week.
Matzah is usually sold in large packages that last for a family for the entire week. If you’re traveling alone or with only one partner, try looking for the smaller packages in the supermarkets. The matzah is crispy, and some claim it tastes like Styrofoam. I don’t think it’s that bad. To make the matzah more eatable, you can soak it in a few drops of water and dry it for a bit. Then, put some chocolate spread, cheese, or jam on it. I usually use it to make matzah brei. There are a lot of things to make from matzah.
Read the Haggadah
The Haggadah is the centerpiece of Passover. As I said in the introduction, we celebrate Passover by retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is a collection of Jewish texts, amongst them texts from the Bible. They tell the story of the Exodus and the blessings that need to be said throughout the Seder feast. So, if you want to get to know the holiday better, the best way is to read the Haggadah. If you don’t know Hebrew, English Haggadah books should also be available in the bookstores.
Bonus tip: If you have a chance to join a Seder feast at a local home, it’s highly recommended. If it’s a Hebrew-speaking house, you’ll be able to hear it read in Hebrew.
Eat at a restaurant that’s Kosher for Passover
In Israel, many restaurants change their menus for Passover. I already talked about matzah and the fact that many Israelis do not eat bread on Passover. But it’s not just about bread. The Jewish law forbids eating anything that is “chametz.” That is, any leavened food product made from wheat, rye, spelt, oats, or barley. So, in Passover, many restaurants use flour that is not based on those products, for example, potato flour, matzah flour, and other types of flour. It’s not always tastey like the original dish, but it’s worth a try.
Explore Israel on foot
Passover is often referred to as “the Holiday of the Spring.” It’s the peak of springtime and a great time to go out and enjoy Israel’s beautiful nature. Often, the weather is pleasant and there are a lot of flowers blossoming everywhere. Israeli families take the opportunity to travel on hiking trails, camp outdoors, or visit the Israeli nature reserves. So, you can expect a lot of crowds.
If you’re not sure which trails to travel, here are a few of my favorite picks:
The Israel National Trail – choose the segment for you
4-days hike on Ramot Menashe Regional Trail
The Nekarot Horseshoe Trail in Ramon Crater
Ein Prat: a short trail near Jeruslaem
Spend time on the beach
This year, the beach season in Israel starts in early April. So, if you like to swim or splash around in the water, you can celebrate Passover by spending time on one of Israel’s splendid beaches. Just consider that they might be crowded, especially in Tel Aviv. For less crowded beaches, I’d recommend heading northward to the northern beaches, like Achziv Beach, Beit Yanai Beach, or Argaman Beach in Akko. But still, they might be crowded, too. Remember that almost everyone is on vacation.
Bonus: Visit Egypt
A large portion of the Passover story took place in Egypt. When in Egypt, you can visit the ancient pyramids and palaces, and imagine the Israelites’ days of slavery. So, if you’re already in the region, it could be a good idea to visit this neighboring country. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to Cairo by EgyptAir. But it might be cheaper flying from Jordan to Egypt, so it’s worth comparing prices.
Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays, a time when we remember the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt. There are many ways you can celebrate Passover in Israel. You can try eating matzah, travel Israel on foot, and more. Hope you’ll have a good time in Israel during the holiday. Happy Passover! Pesach Sameach!
Coming to Israel for other holidays? Read my post – Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel.
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