Romance and Tradition Make Pesach in Holy Land Memorable
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Romance and Tradition Make Pesach in Holy Land Memorable

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Among a people as widely scattered on this planet as the Jews, there are many different ways of celebrating the seder (ritual supper) rights of Passover, and in Palestine one can witness almost every one of these differing ceremonies on the very same night. For in Palestine there is a microcosm of the entire world Jewry.

Only one seder night, the first is celebrated in Eretz-Israel. If one is able to obtain invitations to as many feasts as there are religious sects, it is ## opportunity to obtain a rare and wonderful insight into the social and religious history of the Jewish folk.

The Westerners have their own type of celebration. The ceremonies commence after maariv (evening prayer) services with the time-honored ritual laid down in the familiar Haggadah, and end up a few hours later after a four course dinner that includes chicken soup and noodles.

But not so with the Oriental Jews–the Sephardim, the Caucasians or Georgians, the Persians, the Iraquians or Babli’im, the Moroccans, the Yemenites, the Bokharans, the Orphalis or Kurds, the Kara’im, the Samaritans, and a host of others. Theirs is a wierd and unfamiliar Pesach celebration that is almost alien to Western Jews.

I remember vividly a seder night I attended many years ago in a poor Yemenite household in their residential quarter on the outskirts of Rehoboth, pleasantest of all pre-war Jewish plantations colonies near Tel Aviv. Inside the large wooden shack, dimly lit by oil lanterns which cast an eerie illumination over the thoroughly Oriental scene, the picturesque Jews hailing from that exotic Arabian land whose ruler is a priest, conducted the seder with a solemnity and dignity that struck one as being nothing less than Biblical. They squatted on the floor, the ear-locked father, shawl-swathed mother, and many lustrous-eyed youngsters with thin, queer faces. They partook of strange Oriental Jewish dishes. Unique Passover melodies were played. Even Had Gadya sounded different in their nasal chantings.


Outside the warm Passover night was illumined by a great Palestinian moon. The gentle hum of seder celebrations in a nearby colony, with bursts of singing to betoken the great spiritual joy evoked by the Feast of Liberation, provided a never-to-be-forgotten memory.

The great difference in the celebration by Western and Oriental Jews lies in the ritual melodies and the food. Some Oriental Israel ## cut their unleavened cake–## in a form that you would ## recognize–into units of “yuds” and “vavs,” indicating the initials of the deity, Jehovah. They drink wine that Westerners would probably never relish, and they find the Passover good.

Newcomers and tourists who are too unsettled to have a seder of their own find invitations awaiting them in kindly households; one of the excellent traditions of Palestinian Jewish hospitality is to ask as many friends as possible to your board, and to boast in shool (synagogue) on the morrow that you had had twenty-five or thirty guests. What the baalat-babalt (housewife) thinks, in the rush of preparations and later, when the dishes must be washed, need not ## chronicled.

Many of the German newcomers this year will have their first experience of a Passover celebration in the mass ## ceremonies that are arranged by the Cultural Commission of the Histadrut, Jewish Labor Federation. held in ## Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere. A rabbi and a cantor conduct the ritual, there is a wholesome meal later, and singing and dancing, sometimes theatrical entertainment by the “Ohel” Labor Theatre Guild, as there was last year, to wind up the proceedings which last until the wee hours. The hora and the rondeau are favorite dances.


The hotels also have well attended seder nights while charity organizations provide mass ceremonies for the needy. It is a real lesson in Jewish charity, a glimpse at what “the milk of human kindness” means in this generous land, to attend the charity seder ceremonies and dinners.

To many the seder night in a kvutzah or post-war Jewish settlement is a refreshing interlude. For here the virility and the fresh youthfulness of growing Eretz-Israel is pictured in all the vigor of a ## Jewish life. The kvutzah or. kibbutz seder night contrasts vividly, almost spectacularly, with the portentous celebration of the Oriental Jews, who spin out their ritual until well after midnight–five hours or more at a stretch–in droning, quaint chants and cantillations.

The Samaritan Jews, living on Mount Gerizim outside Nablus, or ancient Schechem, have their paschal feast either before or after regulation Passover. Their rendering of the great Jewish feast puts the most hyper-orthodox of contemporary Jewish ceremony in the shade. They abide strictly to the ancient Scriptural usages, from cutting the throat of a spotless white lamb over a bonfire set in rocks in the open air to the squatting circle of celebrants Intent upon the ritual. It takes one’s mind back thousands of years to the bays when Israel was a hard folk, and the tribes had come to conquer Canaan.

Another esoteric sect are the Kara’im who are hidden in alleys and by-ways of the walled old Jerusalem and have their own fastness in a synagogue that is almost ## They, too, hold their own Passover celebration at their own time, and in spite of their strict observance of the tenets of their creed it is feared that many are susceptible to non-Jewish influence.

“Next Year in Jerusalem!”

It is an age-old cry that in Palestine a quarter of a million Jews find incongruous. But they say it piously nevertheless in the hope that it will redeem millions of their fellow-Jews still in the Diaspora,

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