Under Passover lockdown, thousands take to balconies to sing ‘Mah Nishtana’

With families confined at home, country belts out Four Questions, traditionally sung by youngest member of household, asking ‘Why is this night different from every other night?’

An Israeli man stands on his hands on an empty road during a lockdown following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, April 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
An Israeli man stands on his hands on an empty road during a lockdown following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, April 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Tens of thousands of Israelis, locked down by the government and separated from their families on Passover, came out to their balconies to sing together Wednesday night.

In cities and towns across the country people joined together to sing Mah Nishtana, or the Four Questions, a song traditionally sung by the youngest member of the household that asks: “Why is this night different from every other night?”

The festive meal, traditionally a large gathering of family or friends, was being marked by many in solitary quarantine, or only with those confined together in the same house with a countrywide curfew, keeping people to their homes for the first night of the holiday.

The act of solidarity was especially poignant with many elderly people unable to celebrate with their children and grandchildren.


While most sang, in some places people flicked their apartment lights on and off, cheered, clapped and shouted happy holidays to their neighbors.

Celebrations also veered to the less traditional, with some using programs like Zoom and FaceTime to connect virtually for the meal, that puts a focus on passing traditions down from generation to generation.

Channel 12 broadcast “The Great Israeli Seder Live,” with presenters leading the seder meal together, surrounded by large screens with hundreds joining in on Zoom. From time-to-time they checked in with various celebrities from their meals.

“It’s difficult to keep the spirits up when we are apart from our children and grandchildren, but tradition must continue,” said TV presenter Haim Hecht before reading a passage from the Haggadah on the show.

The government put a focus on stopping people holding large family gatherings, fearing a repeat of the Purim holiday in early March when hundreds of parties went ahead, which have since been identified as a major source of infections. Officials fear a fresh wave of infections could push Israel backwards just as initial signs of recovery have started to emerge.

Under the curfew, which began at 3 p.m. and will end Thursday at 7 a.m., Israelis are barred from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes and all businesses must close.

From Thursday morning until Friday, Israelis will again be permitted to move within their cities and towns for essential needs, but will not be allowed to leave city limits. Exceptions will be made for those who do not have supermarkets and pharmacies in their towns, but they may go only to the nearest town with those services.

Jerusalem residents will be confined throughout the lockdown and curfew within the city zone they live in, after government officials sketched out a division of the city — which has the largest number of virus cases in the country — into seven portions.

Public transportation throughout the country ceased on Tuesday evening and will not resume until Sunday morning. The government also canceled all international flights from Tuesday night through Sunday, unless the airlines receive special permission from the transportation and interior ministries.

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