Daphne Lazar Price

I’m in Israel for Passover. This is how Israelis are celebrating

It’s almost the end of the 7-day celebration of Passover. I can now look back and tell you how Israelis celebrated — are celebrating — this holiday.

We booked our tickets to travel to Israel for Passover months ago. Our plan was to rent a space so we could celebrate the holiday with our children who live in Israel. Six months deep into a painful war, and just a few days shy of our departure, Iran launched an unprecedented attack against Israel, deploying hundreds of missiles aimed at civilian areas. Undaunted and undeterred, we proceeded with our travel plans. From the moment we saw the excitement on people’s faces on our fully booked El Al flight, to the moment we felt the warmth of friends and family who greeted us once we landed, we knew we were where we were meant to be. With just a day left, that positive energy has yet to dissipate. Despite the ongoing mourning over the atrocities of October 7, the heartbreak and longing for the missing hostages, and the looming threats of terrorist escalation, this is how Israelis are celebrating Passover this year.

The cafes are bustling. It’s Passover, and unlike most kosher establishments overseas, the restaurants here “turn over” their kitchens and swap their ingredients so that the food they serve meets the “kosher for Passover” requirements. The town square where we are spending the holiday is lined with tables, filled with families enjoying coffee and cake, ice cream (so much ice cream!) and even pizza and burgers (though not together!). 

The beaches are packed. Every day my spouse and I walk miles along the shore. I observe Jews, Muslims and Christians from all walks of life sunning on the beach, frolicking in the waves, kicking soccer balls, playing volleyball and engaging in fierce games of matkot (an Israeli version of pickleball). We watch as our children wade into the water, as parents teach their children how to jump the same waves surfers are waiting to catch. Everyone is out enjoying the cool sea breeze on these warm, warm days. It’s a beautiful sight to see.

Our children asked us about getting tickets to music concerts. Omer Adam, Ishay Ribo, Chanan Ben Ari are some of the top line performers. We opted out of those – I’m still not comfortable with being in crowds. But that doesn’t seem to deter the frenzied crowds at these sold-out venues. 

The Kotel (Western Wall) is filled with worshipers and tourists alike. Passover is one of the shalosh regalim, the three holidays, when during ancient times, and in the thousands of years since, Jewish people make a pilgrimage to this holy site. People mill near the wall to pray – either alone or with community – to leave notes in the wall, and to receive the priestly blessing. Some just sit and meditate. Others weep. But all are in awe for the privilege to be able to pray in a holy city at a holy site.

We have been to Israel so many times that we don’t generally make a point of visiting tourist sites. But for one day we make an exception, splitting our day between a kangaroo sanctuary and relaxing in natural water springs. The lines to these attractions are long. The lines to all of the attractions are long. The traffic on the roads is as busy as any holiday.

This is my third time returning to Israel since October 7. I can feel a definite change in the atmosphere since October 6. So despite the holiday and the levity of these days, this is a heavy time too.

The war looms closely, physically and emotionally. There are signs everywhere: of hostages stolen by Hamas on October 7, of instructions to empty stairwells that are to be used as shelters, of directions to public shelters. Billboards and makeshift monuments attest to the atrocities of October 7 and inspire resilience every day since. Our apps light up with notifications of rockets being launched by Hamas from Gaza in the south and by Hezbollah from Lebanon in the north. Seder tables were fully set, though not fully seated. In addition to the setting traditionally left empty for Elijah the prophet, some seats were left empty because of family members’ deployments. Others were left empty by design, holding space for the hostages, until they are each returned to their own families. I also think about what I have awaiting me back in the United States; it has been impossible for me to ignore the antisemitic uprisings on college campuses across the country. 

We started the holiday with the traditional Passover seder. Just like every other year, we read the opening words of the maggid portion:

This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate the Passover. Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel. This year we are enslaved. Next year we will be free.

The ancient Israelites were freed from slavery. And yet today we still do not consider ourselves to be free. As we chanted these aspirational words then – as I reread them right now – my prayer is for these words to come to fruition. May the hostages be freed now. May all who are deployed return home now. May all who are in need of healing – physically and psychologically – be freed of their pain now. May we all be freed from hate and from violence, now, next year, and forever more.


About the Author
Daphne Lazar Price is the Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and an adjunct professor of Jewish Law at Georgetown University Law Center. She is active in the Orthodox community in her hometown of Silver Spring, MD, where she lives with her husband and two children.
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