Michael Kohler

Why this night is different than all others

We always knew this night would be different than all others but didn’t realize just how different it would really be. For months we had plans to be in Israel to spend Pesach with our immediate family, and that would be a first. One of our sons is studying in Israel for the year at a yeshiva while his twin brother made aliyah and is currently serving as a lone soldier in tzanchanim (paratroopers). With our daughter’s college Spring Break coinciding with Pesach, we knew we could make this happen – the first time together as a family in more than a year and the first seder held in our very own, recently purchased apartment on the beach in Ashkelon.

Visiting (or living in) Israel this time of year is the best. Not oppressively hot like the summer could be, nor windy or rainy like the winter, we looked forward to and have been treated to great weather. Pesach is called Chag Aviv, or Spring Holiday, and you truly feel it in the air. But beyond the weather, what you feel in the air is Pesach all around you, and that is a beautiful thing. Yes, it is quite possible to keep a kosher Pesach in the US, but as with all Jewish holidays, it is the aberration and not the norm. The beauty of Israel is that the holiday is all around you – it is the norm, and not the aberration. Yes, our supermarket at home does a great job (even before Purim) of displacing the entire “snack and chips” aisle to make way for the (over-priced and short supply of) kosher for Pesach food. But on the other hand, here in Israel the supermarkets are filled with all the regular brands clearly labeled if permissible, cakes, cookies, everything is readily available and plentiful at your disposal. And as least as far as I could tell, the prices no different than the rest of the year. As the holiday approaches, big white plastic sheets cover the chametz, or forbidden foods, in the store as you aren’t even permitted to purchase those products during the holiday! Walking through Jerusalem one day and then our adopted hometown of Ashkelon the next, we are amazed and excited seeing the restaurants that are open with entirely separate kosher for Pesach menus (I will leave the kitniyot discussion for elsewhere). All these things are surely making this Pesach different than all others for me and my family.

Unfortunately though, the reality of current events means that this Pesach is different in not so pleasant or positive ways, as well. The political situation is what it is and the cultural and societal divides in this country are palpable and disheartening. The protests and tough talk on all sides might have taken a brief break for the holiday, but things will surely heat up again in the days to come, for sure. With the confluence of Pesach and Ramadan once again this year, coupled with the most right-wing government in Israeli history and senior government ministers making incendiary statements, I think all have been on edge hoping nothing serious happens over the next few days. For my wife and I, just like most Israeli families, each news story is read and followed more closely. We were shocked just yesterday reading that the kibbutz where my son studies, Maale Gilboa, was struck by random gunfire and while luckily nobody was injured, and my son wasn’t even there, it is surely unnerving. And with a son now serving for several months in Hebron, news yesterday that a soldier was shot and lightly injured north of Hebron yesterday surely hit close to home as well.  

And, talking about close to home…I was awoken at about 3 AM this morning as the Red Alert app on my phone went off. I grabbed my phone to see there was an alert in the Sderot area and within seconds heard the distant, yet audible, booms from the Iron dome being deployed. I then read of the conflict at the al-Asqa mosque and knew these events must be connected. By the time I was ready to fall back asleep, another red alert. Two more alerts woke me in the morning, which apparently followed Israel’s strikes in Gaza, rounded out my morning. Thus, my first experience with rockets from Gaza and the Iron Dome complete, with a few observations. First, the timing between the first alert and the deployment of the Iron Dome is ridiculously fast. When we read about “only 10 or 15 or 20 seconds to seek shelter” know that is no joke as I saw firsthand how difficult it would have been to reach our safe room in time. Next, as is often repeated, the resiliency of the Israeli people knows no bounds. True, the rockets last night were not targeted directly towards Ashkelon, but the absolute normalcy of people on the beach, walking the streets, in the supermarkets making last minute Seder purchases and the restaurants filled at the marina was amazing to see.

For me, this is why this night will be different than all others. We are thankfully able to experience a Pesach, in Israel, with our family, in our own apartment and live and breathe the holiday in the air for the first time, while unfortunately, also recognizing, living through, and appreciating from a whole different perspective, the difficulties and challenges all Israelis face. May we all have a peaceful, kosher and happy Pesach.

About the Author
Michael Kohler is on the Long Island Regional Board of the American Jewish Committee, is committed to strengthening the relationship between US Jews and Israel, and professionally works as an immigration attorney on Long Island, N.Y. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect those of AJC or any other group or organization.
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