What is Passover?
Passover begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavu’ot and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel. The primary observances of Passover are related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery as told in the biblical Book of Exodus from chapters 1 to 15. Happy Passover in Israel.
After many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, G‑d saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Send forth My people, so that they may serve Me.” But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed G‑d’s command. G‑d then sent upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), G‑d visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, G‑d spared the Children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day, and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as G‑d’s chosen people.
Passover lasts for seven days (eight days outside of Israel). The first and last days of the holiday (first two and last two outside of Israel) are days on which no work is permitted. Work is permitted on the intermediate days, referred to as Chol Ha-Mo’ed.
As Passover approaches, families across the country are getting ready for the holiday. People are cleaning up their homes, in an effort to ensure that there is literally no “hametz” anywhere inside the home.Hametz means ‘leavened’ in Hebrew and includes any grain products that have ‘risen’ like bread or crackers. During the Passover holiday only Matzah is eaten. Families are busy cleaning cars, bedroom closets, windows, and bathrooms, in order to ensure complete compliance with Jewish law for the holiday. It is the ultimate springtime cleaning and a very time-consuming endeavor. Stores within Israel do likewise, with grocery stores frequently separating their hametz products from the Passover products, so that they will be “Passover friendly”.
The Seder in Israel
Families across Israel cook in preparation for the Passover holiday. Seders in Israel are often very large, containing thirty plus people. Often, the women of the family will divide up the cooking, so that the Passover preparations don’t fall entirely on one woman. Thus, one woman will make the harotzet, while yet another woman would prepare the lamb and yet another one will cook various vegetables. On the night of the Seder, all of this hard work pays off, with the serving of a delicious feast to the entire extended family. The Seder is a night-long festive occasion, which includes the reading of the Hagadah accompanied by delicious foods that the women of the family started preparing much in advance.
Since the IDF unfortunately cannot go on vacation during Jewish holidays, how do the soldiers of the IDF celebrate this holiday? Soldiers must be even more vigilant during these times. Some soldiers, if they’re lucky, are allowed to leave their base and return home in order to enjoy a seder (the ritual meal for Passover) with friends and family. Others, however, must remain on base or out in the field during seder time. Soldiers who must stay on base are invited to the main dining hall. Each base has its own army chaplain to conduct the seder. For some IDF soldiers, the seder on base will be their first-ever Passover experience. Soldiers who are on guard against the many threats Israel faces for the night will receive an army-approved kosher-for-Passover “seder-in-a-box” that contains the six required symbolic Passover items: grape juice, maror (bitter herbs), charoset (apple and date honey mix), hard-boiled egg, lamb bone, karpas (parsley) and chazeret (lettuce).