By Joe Yudin, CEO of Touring Israel
Passover in Israel is indeed a unique experience. School is out not for one week but two. The week before Passover is a week for cleaning out all of the “Hametz” which is basically anything that is not kosher for Passover. This means any food product in an open container gets tossed in the trash. All bread products (and if you are an Ashkenazi Jew or Jew from central/eastern European descent the list is even longer) including flour, cereal, cakes, pastries, pastas, etc get thrown away. The entire house gets a thorough, spotless cleaning. This is perhaps where the idea of “spring cleaning” comes from. The week before Passover school is out so the children may help their parents clean (someone needs to tell my teenage daughters that because they take this opportunity to sleep in).
Not all of the Jews of Israel practice this tradition. In fact, many take this these two weeks as an opportunity to go abroad. The first and last days of Passover are national holidays, this means that most businesses are closed these two days (this year, because of our lunar/solar calendar, these two days fall on our weekend). Many businesses force their employees to take their vacations during this time and therefore they plan to go abroad. If they are abroad, no need to clean the house. Many Jews from the Diaspora have the idea, except when these mostly religious Jews go abroad, they come to Israel and fill up the hotels. They come to Israel for several reasons. The first is that we are told in our Passover and Yom Kippur liturgy that we should celebrate these holidays “Next year in Jerusalem” which is interpreted as a step toward the redemption of the Temple and the coming of the “Messianic Age”. Also since religious Jews have many dietary restrictions during Passover, and most of the restaurants in Israel are kosher for Passover, the Religious Jews don’t have to clean their houses and can easily celebrate and eat freely in Israel. At the same time the Jews who remain in Israel are on vacation or out of school throughout the holiday and they too join the tourists to make Israel’s roads, parks, beaches, shops, etc, one big crowded place. There is a joyous atmosphere throughout the country, the Western Wall Plaza is certainly a site to see during the Priestly Blessing, but touring in Israel during this holiday is challenging from the perspective of what you can eat, the many crowds, and the pricing and minimum overnight stays in hotels.
So should you come to Israel during Passover? In my opinion if its your first time coming to Israel, no you should not. If you would like to experience and celebrate an ancient festival in a lively, colorful but a bit chaotic holiday season while observing the traditional Jewish customs, then absolutely yes!
On behalf of myself and all of my staff at Touring Israel, I wish you all a very happy Passover, and Next Year in Jerusalem!
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