JERUSALEM (JTA) – Ethiopian immigrants to Israel held model seders in absorption centers throughout the country in preparation for their first Passover in Israel.
Ethiopian immigrants in the absorption center in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion held a model seder Monday attended by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews; Natan Sharansky, chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel; Col. Zion Shankur, the highest-ranking Ethiopian in the Israel Defense Forces; Ambassador Belaynesh Zevadia, Israel’s first Ethiopia-born ambassador; and prominent Ethiopian-Israeli singer-songwriter Maski Shabiro.
Sharansky recalled making a seder while imprisoned in Siberia, using water instead of wine and bread instead of matzah, and reciting as much of the Haggadah as he could from memory. After his release and own immigration to Israel, he flew to Ethiopia to escort a group of Jews there on their own flight to Israel.
Many of the olim attended the model seder dressed entirely in white, the traditional Ethiopian attire for festive occasions. After briefly experiencing the highlights of a seder, the participants started dancing a traditional Ethiopian dance.
They have been studying Passover at the absorption center in recent week, learning from the Haggadah along with an Amharic translation.
“In Ethiopia, they ate matzah all year round,” said Yehudah Sharf, director of Aliyah and Absorption for The Jewish Agency. “Here it is only on Passover that they eat the ‘lachma anya’ — bread of the poor — because they have so many more opportunities. For them, now, eating matzah truly makes it a night to ask ‘what is different tonight from all other nights.’ ”