Pesach (Passover) 5775

Chart of the order of the seder, from Arthur Sczyk’s Hagadah

There are many requirements for observing the Passover holiday, and many of them are fulfilled at the Seder table. The most important ones are eating matza and maror (bitter herbs) and teaching children about the holiday. But in all the seriousness, we should not forget that the seder is a festival meal, a meal time for celebrating. In addition to fulfilling our obligations, we had fun at Seder at Sara and Danny’s house. The children have gotten older and their participation more intricate. This year they acted out several important points of the story told in the Hagadah.

After the matza was broken for the afikomen to be eaten later, the three girls lined up at the end of the table. Sara had been given a small part in this first presentation. She asked, “Who are you?”
The girls answered, somewhat in unison, “We’re B’nai Yisrael.”

Sara then asked, “Where are you coming from?”

“We’re coming from the Land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

“Where are you going?”
“To the land G-d promised us.”

“Is there something you want to ask?”
The girls then sang the traditional Four Questions.

It’s fun to watch the children’s development as their roles change. Yael, almost finished first grade, can read now. So she joined her older sister and the grownups, and got to read several paragraphs aloud.

This year’s biggest innovation was the enactment of the Ten Plagues. It was done as a poetic recitation, in which each verse repeats everything that came before it, complete with hand motions and sound effects.

First plague: Blood–ugly faces and cries of “Iksa! Iksa!” (Disgusting! Disgusting!)

Second plague: Frogs–jumping around yelling “Qvak! Qvak!” which is how Hebrew-speaking frogs croak.

Yaakov Kirschen’s illustration of plagues 6 -10 from his hagaddah

Lice and boils involved running around, scratching or swatting at the air, and yelling some variation of a gargling, coughing, croaking sound. For the eighth plague, they made satisfying crunching sounds to imitate the locusts eating everything in sight. For darkness, they ran around bumping into each other.

I wondered how they would show the tenth, most devastating, plague. Yocheved and Adina stood together, and suddenly Yocheved dropped to the ground. Adina yelled, “Akhmed!” She got down on her knees and shook Akhmed, who did not respond. She then put her head down on “his” chest and pretended to cry. Of course, the effect was ruined when a moment later, the dead Akhmed jumped to her feet to run around bumping into her sisters in darkness and then crunch as a locust, scream and shield her head from the falling hail, and so on back to yelling “Qvak! Qvak!” as a frog and “Iksa! Iksa!” at water turning to blood.

We are supposed to spill a drop of wine from our cups at the mention of each plague. Despite the plagues leading to our freedom from slavery, we cannot celebrate other people’s suffering with a full cup of wine. But I was laughing so hard I lost count. So after “Akhmed” and his sisters returned to the table, I said the ten plagues in order and dipped out ten drops of wine.


After the first day of Passover, we return to ordinary life. Except, of course, the intermediate six days of Pesach are not completely ordinary. We must still observe the Pesach food restrictions and schools are not in session. With the children off, at least half the non school-age population takes off from work. Bank HaPoalim sponsors free admission to 40 popular sites all over the country. These sites include the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Umm al Fahm Museum, the Haifa Zoo, Jerusalem Botanical Garden, and the Israel Air Force Museum in Hatzerim.

National parks are crowded; it’s hard to find an empty picnic table when you want to sit down to eat. Walking on nature trails, the most nature you see is human. Many places have special activities for children. As we walked through the Tower of David Museum on Tuesday, we saw a Crusader sword fighting with some young children, an ancient Israelite explaining to others what he used the pottery for, and a 20th century doctor waiting for patients. The Old City of Jerusalem was so full of people, the Number 1 bus ran like a shuttle taking people home. As each crowded bus pulled away from the bus stop, another bus pulled up to take on its load. We managed to board the third bus that stopped while we were waiting.

Many public places, such as hospitals and some parks, are hametz-

Sign above street leading into Jewish Quarter of Old City

free zones for the duration of the holiday. This includes the whole Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. A sign above one of the arches leading from the Zion Gate parking lot into the residential area reminds people not to eat any hametz within its confines during the holiday. However, no one checked bags to make sure visitors weren’t smuggling in hametz.

In Afula, however, things were a little different. Potential visitors were turned away from a municipal park if they had food not Kosher for Pesach with them. And who was checking to protect the park from hametz? The people who are most experienced at rummaging through purses and backpacks of strangers–the security guards. I can imagine the encounter, walking up to the entrance, handing over my purse, and being asked by the armed guard at the gate, “Any weapons? Gun? Knife? Sandwiches?”

The need to check everyone for weapons is just a part of life in Israel, and we take it seriously. Lumping a sandwich together with weapons is absurd. But such is life in Israel–the serious and the absurd together.