Last year, teens across America sat at seder tables with their families, ate matzah, read from the Hagaddah and proclaimed, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
This year, for teens exploring Israel and earning high school credit on the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel program, that dream was realized.
Use the links below to jump to a student’s reflection about their Passover experience in Israel.
I celebrated Passover with my family on Kibbutz Sasa in the far North of Israel. We had the seder in Sasa’s brand new dining hall. It wasn’t a particularly religious experience. In fact, I didn’t hear the word “God” once. Still, it was one of the most unique Jewish experiences I’ve ever had. What does that mean? In our Jewish History class, here at the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel, we learned that there are three points of a triangle that make up the Jewish civilization: Torah, the religious aspect; Am, the cultural aspect; and Eretz, the physical land of Israel. Throughout the Diaspora, Torah and Am, the religious and cultural aspects, kept us together when we had no land of our own. However, the kibbutz movement rejected the religious corner of the triangle in favor of one that we had lost for centuries: the Land of Israel. My seder was very focused on the Jewish community, Jewish food, and the modern State of Israel.
There were around 500 kibbutznikim and their families in attendance. Because a kibbutz is such a close community, everyone at the seder knew everyone else (and they expressed this by getting up and talking the entire time). The kibbutz went through the entire Hagaddah, but it was a different Hagaddah. It was based on the kibbutz Hagaddah, with some changes that Sasa decided to throw in. Of course, it was entirely in Hebrew. As I struggled to follow along and understand what was happening, I did decipher the traditional telling of the story of the Exodus and things like the four questions.
We were slaves, Pharoah was mean, and why is this night different from all other nights?
When it came to the cups of wine, they didn’t say the traditional blessing. They instead talked about certain springtime, Israeli things. One cup for the flowers, another for a good crop. The third was focused on the success of the Israeli Defense Forces. I cannot remember if there was a fourth.
What distinguished this seder from my seder at home, aside from the influx of 480 extra guests, was that it was led. There was one person with a microphone, let’s call them the “MC” of the seder, and for every section, a member of the kibbutz would either get up and read or sing a song. I was blown away by the musical talent. There was an entire band set up with a drummer, a bass player and my cousin on saxophone. The chorus, composed of twelve 70-year-olds, sang Israeli and Passover songs. They sang “Chad Gadya” in Italian (Alu Capre!).
by Erica Burke
It’s hard to believe that years from now I’ll be able to say I celebrated Passover in Israel. I’ve learned so much about the holiday that I had not known before, or just never practiced. Our entire kibbutz had to be cleaned and made kosher for Pesach, including no bread at meals – only matzah. All of us on EIE went to different places for seder; I tagged along with my friend Rachel.
We visited her very distant relative named Shoshana and her husband, Chaim, in K’far Saba. I’ve learned that most Israelis are not as religiously observant as one might assume. In my mind, when I thought of high holidays, I automatically assumed that they would go all out – full seder, keeping kosher, etc. I was proved wrong, however, as we were fed cake and only said a couple blessings and prayers before digging into our seder dinner.
It was so nice to be able to experience a real Israeli Jewish home during the holidays. It was lovely, looking up at a table full of close and loving family all bonding and enjoying the holiday, living in the Holy Land. I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew how lucky they all were to be living here, as a free and independent Jew, not as part of a minority.
My fellow EIE students and I spent the rest of Pesach hiking across the country. Is there a better way to celebrate Jewish freedom than walking across the homeland? I was given the opportunity to experience the breathtaking beauty of Eretz Yisrael. Being there, walking the land of the Jewish people during Pesach, and experiencing the raw beauty of it all, there was nothing else I could ask for. It was by far the most meaningful and enjoyable Passover I have ever celebrated and I owe it all to NFTY-EIE.
My EIE Pesach Experience
by Gilad Granot
My Israeli Pesach experience was a very special and meaningful one I will not soon forget. Although my entire extended family lives here in Israel, I had, unfortunately, never had the opportunity to celebrate any of the major holidays with them. Instead, I have always celebrated the major holidays with friends of my immediate family in the United States, in metropolitan Detroit. While these friends are always extremely happy to host my family on these special occasions, and it is always a great and meaningful experience to spend this time with them, I have always wondered what it would be like to celebrate Jewish tradition with my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins, as many of my American friends do for each and every holiday.
That is why this Pesach was, by far, the most special one up until this point in my life: I finally got to experience a true family holiday celebration. In the little town of Nataf, close to the Arab village Abu-Gosh, my aunt, uncle, grandfather, three cousins and their boyfriends, sister, mother, and I all sat around a large table for the Pesach seder. I cannot really explain exactly why, but it just felt right. It felt right to be celebrating the holiday with family, to sing with them, to be able to share nostalgic memories of our grandmother who passed away four years ago, and to catch up on everything new in our respective lives.
It is impossible not to notice how vastly different the entire week of Pesach is here in from in the United States. For the whole week, most take a break from their academic and professional pursuits. Life slows down, and people have time to just relax, spend time with family, and hike around the country – as we on EIE did, from the Galilee to the Mediterranean. Amazing!
Ever since I can remember, I have celebrated Passover with my mom, dad, brother, aunt and cousins at Grandma Gilda’s Mississippi home.
My family’s Passover tradition has remained constant for my entire life. Every year, we fly to Jackson, Mississippi, gather around Grandma’s big Passover table, sing those familiar Passover tunes, read the Hagaddah and, finally, pig out (in a kosher sort of way)! Passover has always been one of my favorite holidays because it is a time spent with my family, doing what we do best – eating! However, my participation in the spring semester of NFTY-EIE made it a little tricky to uphold these Passover traditions. With absolutely no family in Israel, I faced one of my favorite Jewish holidays in an entirely new way. I was randomly assigned to an Israeli host family, the Kaisers, who generously took me in for laila seder.
So, I went. With an open mind and not a clue what to expect, I was ready to celebrate the holiday for the first time outside the familiar comfort zone of Grandma’s Mississippi home.
In my black dress, tights and boots, we went to the apartment of my host’s grandfather near Kadima. His tiny apartment held four generations, ranging in age from 15 to 96. I was welcomed with open arms and made to feel part of the family. The grandfather, a grand master of ceremonies, asked which language I was most comfortable speaking, as he was fluent in seven. After about a half hour of conversing, mostly in Hebrew with the necessary amount of English of course, it was time for the seder to begin!
Eleven family members and I gathered around the Passover table and opened our Hagaddot. I knew my host family considered themselves secular, however I had not known just how secular they were. The seder lasted a total of twenty minutes. I was shocked to know that my Mississippi seder lasted nearly five times as long as this Israeli one. The family read the passages they liked and sang the songs they wanted to sing, skipping around the Hagaddah, eagerly anticipating the delicious food to come!
So, after our twenty minute seder came to a close, we feasted! There were endless food options ranging from fish to chicken to meat! It was delicious (taim meod in Ivrit). It reminded me of Grandma’s cooking back in Mississippi. Dessert was my favorite course. It was a chocolate and flourless cake galore!
The clean up came next. Each individual picked out his or her favorite dish to pack up and take home for lunch the next day. Then, reclaiming our spots around the cleared table, the family and I sat, drinking wine, coffee, and tea, enjoying the company of one another. At 10:00 p.m., I left Yosi’s house, feeling full of both food for the body and for the soul.
Every year at Passover, we say “Next year in Jerusalem.” This year, for the first time, I was able to actually experience this. Compared to last year, I wasn’t too far from Jerusalem; my two friends and I visited Haifa for the holiday, and had a seder in an authentic Israeli home. The ceremony was not too different: We still dipped the parsley in salt water, we hid the Afikomen, and we sang the all too familiar “Dayenu.” The only difference was that this seder was in Hebrew instead of English. Because I had been through this routine 16 times before, I generally understood what was going on. I felt a much closer connection to the land of Israel, however. I felt as if I were paying respect, in a sense, to Am Israel and to all those throughout the centuries who were outlasted by the wait for this time in history.
This Year in Jerusalem
by John Villa
This year in Jerusalem I went to a seder in a settlement called Maale Adumim. Not only did I have the experience of being in Israel for Passover, but it was also my first in an Orthodox home. I never thought that I would have to think about which of the two sinks is the meat sink and which is for milk.
Although I have not always been a religious person, I came to appreciate the morals and laws that my Orthodox hosts live by. This eye-opening experience of staying with an Orthodox family over one of the holiest days of the year has really shown me that even if you are not religious, every person needs something to guide their life. It can be anything, from the Torah to the Golden Rule. An interesting fact: the Golden Rule originated with Hillel and was restated by Jesus. Passover in Israel is something I will never forget and, hopefully, next year will also be in Jerusalem.
I was on an adventure – my first Passover in Israel. I got into the taxi to go to a house I had never visited before; it was full with people I had never met. Within five minutes I realized that I would be celebrating an Orthodox family. This was the first time I had entered an Orthodox house and I was there for one of the biggest Jewish holidays. The house was completely hectic, but in a good way. They were doing their last minute clean up, making sure the house was really ready for the big night. The house was completely free of any chametz and everything was ready.
First, we carried the extra leaven from the house and burned it in a communal fire. Then we went to an Orthodox synagogue for Friday night services, which were devoid of singing or guitars, a first for me. It was still very pleasant. When we got back to the house, we rested for a bit before the seder started. It was the same story I have heard since I can remember, but this time it was all in Hebrew, which really gave me the feeling of Passover in Israel.
They took the service a lot more seriously than my family, yet they did not emphasize the plagues that take up most of the American seder. It went on for hours, but I really enjoyed seeing other people’s little family traditions. It made me reminisce about my own family and the little unique things we do during Passover. It was a little past midnight when we stopped. The room was completely lit by candles and it was a beautiful sight.
After the young kids were long gone, the conversation switched to more intellectual topics. We discussed modern Israel and the differences between secular Jews and the Orthodox. We went on to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then we said a final prayer for peace.
Being in Israel for Pesach made me feel much more connected to the holiday than I ever had before. While I found it much easier to stay kosher for Pesach, I felt a sense of comfort in the fact that everyone else around me was keeping kosher as well. Growing up in the States, I found myself very uncomfortable bringing matzah to school. That discomfort was nowhere to be found in Israel.
My very distant Israeli cousins hosted the Passover seder I attended. Not only was I presented with the daunting task of participating in an all-Hebrew seder, but I also had to try to converse with people I had never met before. Granted, most of the people at the seder were fluent English speakers.
The seder was very similar to the customary seder we host at my own home, and I found it quite simple to follow along. About midway through, I realized that I was living a dream that many Jews do not get to experience. This is my year in Jerusalem, and I fulfilled last year’s promise. After surviving a few days with my organic Israeli relatives, we set off on our Yam l’Yam hike.
Once the sun went down on the 7 days following the seder, I thought how much I wished I could have spent this sacred week in Israel every year of my life. I realize how lucky I am to be able to have this experience and the many more to come on EIE. EIE exposes us to Judaism in ways many Jews can’t even imagine, and I am thankful for that.
by Rachel Martin
Every year at the end of the Passover seder we say, “next year in Jerusalem.” Not knowing that this magical place would be in my future, I would always just say it along with everyone else. This year, however, I was fortunate enough to participate in EIE’s Spring 2012 semester, and so spent this Passover in Israel. Its not just the fact that all my life I was a minority in the United States, but when it came time for me to pull out the matzah, or my menorah, I always felt uncomfortable not being able to fit in like everyone else.
During my whole stay, even Passover, I was no longer that minority. I would stop by stores to get a snack, and all of the chametz was blocked off. Seeing that made it finally hit me that I was spending Passover in Israel.
For the majority of my holiday I was on Yam le Yam – which is a hike from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean. Initially I was really disappointed that we had make this hike during Passover because I was afraid of not having the chance to celebrate the holiday with the part of my family that lives here. But then I realized – with the help of my Jewish history teacher – that Passover is a holiday of traveling. After all, it commemorates the fleeing from Egypt of Jews trying to reach the holy land.
It wasn’t hard keeping pesadicha during Yam le Yam, because the only food available was kosher for Passover.
Before the trek, I was in Tel Aviv for two days visiting family. The difference between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during Passover is like black and white. Weeks before Passover had even began, many restaurants, hotels, and homes in Jerusalem were clearing out all of the chametz – and during Passover, you couldn’t even find a piece of bread in the stores. In Tel Aviv, though, I passed venders in the streets selling pita as I was driving to my family’s house, and we even had chametz at the seder table.
I had an unforgettable Passover in Israel and I know I will be bringing back some new knowledge of this holiday to share with my family at home.