With an exodus from COVID rules underway, this Passover offers events galore

Before, during and after the Seder, Israelis can celebrate the festival with concerts, workshops, games and tours, now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Taking a tour in Tel Aviv's Sarona complex, one of many being offered in the city over the Passover 2021 holiday (Courtesy Riki Rahman)
Taking a tour in Tel Aviv's Sarona complex, one of many being offered in the city over the Passover 2021 holiday (Courtesy Riki Rahman)

How is this Passover different from last year’s Passover? For Israelis at least, families and friends can gather more easily than they did on Passover 2020, when they held Seder under total lockdown in the shadow of the plague.

Now, there is a renewed sense of possibility as the country relaxes its restrictions. Seders can be expanded to up to 20 guests indoors, and once the haroset and maror are digested, there are places to go and things to see over the course of the holiday.

We’ve gathered some of the best ideas for how to celebrate and prepare for the holiday, which begins Saturday night, March 27.

1) Start humming Passover tunes with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, which will host a pre-holiday concert on March 24 at the Jerusalem Theater,  led by Maestro Eli Jaffe with cantors Simon Cohen, Zvi Weiss, Avremi Kirschenbaum and Yaki Lauer, and piyut singer Shimon Elbaz. The concert will be broadcast on the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra Facebook page and YouTube channel, available after the event as well.

The event, one of the orchestra’s first live concerts in months, will be followed by a special Easter concert at the Christ Anglican Church in Shfar’am under the baton of conductor Nizar Alkhater, with arrangements for songs in Arabic.

2) Passover is a time for family anecdotes and memories, marked this year by the National Library for Israel and its holiday project, Passover Memories, with personal tales shared by several well-known figures in the Jewish world.

Former politician and human rights activist Natan Sharansky tells of his first Seder in Moscow and then a Seder celebrated while in solitary confinement, using salt as maror, warm water for wine and dry bread as matzah.

Author Dara Horn describes her family’s vast interactive Seders, utilizing a nine-foot pyramid in her living room and 300 meters of blue yarn to reenact the parting of the Red Sea. Reflecting back in time, renowned educator Alice Shalvi shares details from two memorable Seders during her childhood, one during World War II and one just after, when the guests at her family’s table ranged from an opera singer to Jewish soldiers.

Natan and Avital Sharansky in 1986 (Courtesy Israel Simionski)

The Passover Memories stories appear on The Librarians, the institution’s online publication, and the project is part of Gesher L’Europa, an initiative to connect with people and communities across Europe and beyond.

3) Tune into Beit Avi Chai prior to Passover, when the Jerusalem cultural institute will run several digital programs in honor of this all-important spring holiday. Chef and food entrepreneur Hedai Offaim will host various singers in his kitchen, including singer Ester Rada, followed by Daniela Spektor and then Neta Elkayam with Amit Chai Cohen for chats about Passover recipes, music and life.

Beit Avi Chai is taking participants on digital tours of the Israel Museum to look at art and objects with Passover motifs, while other Beit Avi Chai speakers will host different talks, including one about different Haggadahs, Passover in literature and songs of freedom.

4) Given that the Passover Seder is often a multi-generational event, it’s always a good idea to introduce some fun and games to spice up the lengthy meal.

Jerusalemite Liora Halevi created and designed Slightly Scandalous Seder Cards — a Jewy game that’s a combination of Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity, with 44 question cards and 256 answer cards that are family-friendly and offer a cheeky way to tell the Passover story.

The judge in each round asks the question, such as, “What’s so urgent you can’t even let bread rise” or “You think slavery was bad? Wait until you try —” and then chooses from the answer cards offered by the other game players. The cards are sassy and funny, referencing Passover sources, the Haggadah and what it’s like to celebrate the holiday in modern times. There’s even a reference card for some of the Passover terminology.

“It’s 100% making fun of ourselves as Jews and loving that at the same time,” said Halevi, who has fond memories of the games played at the Seder as a child, and recognized how tough it can be as a teenager or young adult at a big family Seder. “A game offers a really easy, fun way to interact with everyone at the table.”

Slightly Scandalous Seder Cards were created by Jerusalemite Liora Halevi to spice up the seder (Courtesy Seder Cards)

The digital and print and play versions (with the option of a coronavirus expansion) of Seder Cards are an option for those living outside Israel, and are less expensive than the NIS 95 ($27.99) game kit, which is printed in Israel and can be shipped or picked up at locations in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Zichron Yaakov throughout Passover.

Artist and educator Sari Kopitnikoff creates games and ideas for That Jewish Moment, her informal Jewish educational company, including Matza Playhouse, her removable sticker game for younger kids (Courtesy Sari Kopitnikoff)

Still on the game front, US Jewish educator and digital artist Sari Kopitnikoff of That Jewish Moment also prefers game play as a method of making the Seder more accessible to all.

She suggests starting by having Seder participants answer questions in six words, no more, no less; then it’s on to Seder Truth or Dare on cards prepared beforehand (such as, Truth: What is the third question of Ma Nishtana or Dare: Whip out some Egyptian dancing moves at the first mention of Egypt.)

Try playing Catch the Phrase, said Kopitnikoff, using cards printed with two random nouns and one Passover-related word. Each Seder participant gets a card and must incorporate all three words in a sentence during the meal.

Play Seder Yoga as well, challenging Seder guests to create, name and demonstrate a yoga pose based on a Haggadah action; and preempt the afikoman action by printing a small picture of a piece of bread and sneaking it into someone’s shoe or clothing that has to be gotten rid of, of course. It’s all fun and games until someone finds the piece of bread in their pocket.

5) Once the Seder is over, take your pick of indoor and outdoor activities around Israel. Tel Aviv is offering a wide range of walking tours and activities, including a look at 150 years of Sarona, 100 years in the Carmel Market, tasting tours, stories for kids in the Kerem Hateimanim neighborhood, and a look back at 100 years in Neve Sha’anan, along with fashion tours, urban foraging and sneak peaks at the subway under construction. Registration is at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipal website.

A tour of the Independence Trail in Tel Aviv is one of the many activities taking place during Passover 2021 (Courtesy Riki Rahman)

Bank Hapoalim is resuming to its usual sponsorship of museums, attractions and tours during the intermediate days of Passover, with a full list on the Passover Poalim website. The project includes new attractions this year, including Jerusalem’s Old City Ramparts Walk, Netanya’s Planetanya Science and Space Center, Neot Kedumim Park, the Ein Vered Museum of Tractors, and the Minkov Citrus Orchard Museum.

Tourist businesses in the south are also included in the Bank Hapoalim free admission project, including the El Hayaen Ostrich Farm, the Hatzerim agricultural center, Ba’Ofan Bicycle trips and a series of art workshops. There are more than 30 free guided day and evening tours, including walks around Rosh Pina, Gilboa, Ben Shemen Forest, Acre and the Independence Trail in Tel Aviv.
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