Passover is just around the corner and now is the perfect time for all of us to remember what is so beautiful and special about this occasion, besides the fact that it symbolizes the beginning of the springtime. I took this opportunity to write about my personal take on the different seder traditions celebrated by different people in Israel, some less known than others.
Passover is rolling around, and as usual, Jews from around the world are stocking up on matzah and macaroons in preparation for the holiday. Many Jews are also planning their seders, the traditional meal held on the eve of Passover in which we tell the story of Passover and eat some really good food with the family and friends. The beautiful thing about the Passover seder is that it is celebrated differently in every family and culture. As we have said in the past, Israel is a melting pot, so naturally there are many different traditions that have melted together to create the Passover spirit in Israel.
The “Non-Religious” Seder in Israel
My very first seder in Israel was with a family I was living with at the time on a moshav in the south. The family was not religious, but a Passover seder is a cultural event, so even those who do not necessarily celebrate the holiday in the religious sense gather around the table with friends and family to hear the hagada, the book of the story of Passover and the exodus from Egypt, and enjoy a traditional meal. The story was read in rounds, each person reading a section at a time, and saying the prayers throughout. After reading the story and saying the prayers, we finally ate. The experience felt very warm and intimate, mostly because I was surrounded by family and friends. To me, this seemed to be the traditional seder in Israel. The seder plate was just like it was back in the USA, where I come from originally, and the gefilte fish was just as salty and tasty as my mom used to make it. However, the next year I had a totally different experience.
Typical Seder plate (photo by: Yoninah)
The Sephardic Seder in Israel
Judaism is as much of a melting pot as Israel is, and this is especially seen in the many different cultural backgrounds and traditions from different origins. The Sephardic Jews, with origins mostly in the Iberian Peninsula, have unique traditions, especially when it comes to Passover. Most American Jews who keep Passover know that rice and many grains and nuts are forbidden, including things like peanut butter and hummus. This is not the case in Sephardic traditions. Rice is on the table, literally and figuratively. I was shocked to see this at a Passover seder. Aside from having a wider variety of foods to eat, the Sephardic seder I went to also read the hagada differently, quickly running through the story and the prayer in a special melody, eager to get to the eating portion of the evening. While the experience here was just as familial and warm, the atmosphere was different. The seder was mostly lead by the men of the family, and having a special melody for reading the story was a nice touch that I had not seen before hand. It was fascinating for me to physically see and experience the traditions that were preserved from their origins.
The IDF Seder
The beautiful thing about the IDF is that as soon as soldiers draft, everyone is put on the same level. The clothes are the same, the hairstyles are the same, the belongings are the same. So when it comes to holidays and traditions, the meals and celebrations are pretty generic, but everyone brings their own little twist. When I was in the IDF, I celebrated a seder on base, and it was one of the most interesting experiences I had. The hagada and the foods were the same, but instead of having the meal in a homogenic atmosphere, it was an a collection of origins from all over the world coming together to celebrate freedom. No one was with their families, so this very diverse group of soldiers came together under a common purpose and became a family for a night. It was very beautiful.
(Soldiers celebrating photo by Ori Shifrin)
The Tourist Seder in Israel
Passover is a high season for tourism in Israel. Part of the experience of travelling in Israel over Passover is sitting down to a seder. Many tourists find no good option for seder because they don’t necessarily know families here. Therefore, there are many tourists who end up having seders in the major hotels, which isn’t such a great sample of the beautiful and diverse Israeli Passover culture. Puzzle Israel is looking to offer tourists a true Israeli seder experience. Passover is all about feeling at home, even if you’re far away from home, and Puzzle Israel gets that. As a company that absolutely loves culinary art and Israeli culture, any holiday that is based so strongly around a family meal is an opportunity to share these loves with tourists.
Puzzle Israel can arrange very special experiences, such as private seders in beautiful locations all around Israel, even including a special Passover culinary workshop with the best chefs around.