A rabbi weighs in: Passover in Israel

This week on Cafe Oleh we continue with our Passover in Israel special feature. Last week, we heard from one of our Judaism blogger (and veteran olah), KJ Hannah Greenberg, about her experience of celebrating Passover in the Holy Land. This week, we invite Rabbi Elan Adler to answer some questions on the difference of celebrating Passover in Israel versus the Diaspora, both through a halahic lens and through the lens of his own experiences as an oleh-Rabbi.

Rabbi Elan Adler made aliya on July 7, 2010. He currently serves as Director of Public Relations of Ariel Institutes in Bayit Vegan. Prior to his aliya, Rabbi Adler served as a pulpit Rabbi for 25 years in Stamford, CT and Baltimore, MD. He received his Smiha from Yeshiva University. His achievements are many, including the privilege of being an aide to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik for two years, working an activist Rabbi in support of Israel and aliyah, and serving as President of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis. During his tenure as a Rabbi, he was known for being an engaging speaker and teacher, and for his special ability to easily making connections with Jewish people as well as with the non-Jewish and African American community. While serving the various congregations of his career, he was appreciated for welcoming and embracing all people and for bringing congregants closer to their Jewish heritage. For more information on Rabbi Adler visit http://elanadler.com/.
What are the halahic differences between celebrating Israel in the diaspora v Israel?
In the diaspora, the first two and last two days of Pessah are "holiday" days and have significant restrictions similar to Shabbat. Here in Israel, only the first and last days are "holiday" days, which contributes to the fact that we only have one seder in Israel as opposed to convening friends and family the second night as well.
In America, most of the Pessah food is free of "kitniyot" or pea and bean products generally not eaten by Ashkenazic Jews. Here in Israel, it''s hard to find products for Pessah that don''t have these products, and therefore one has to read the Pessah labels very carefully. In America, finding a Kosher for Passover restaurant is like finding a needle in a haystack, but here in Israel, there are many places to eat for Pessah.
In America, many Jewish communities have central locations supervised by a local fire department for the burning of "hametz " before Pessah. Here in Israel, one can find many places in the neighborhood where people gather to burn their hametz .
This year, on Shabbat, here in Israel we will read the next Torah reading in the cycle of readings given that Pessah will be over by then, whereas in America and the diaspora, the reading will be for the eight day of Pessah. That means for several weeks, our Shabbat Torah readings will not be synchronized.
Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions regularly meet and often mix in Israel. On Passover, however, this proves slightly problematic, as the restrictions on what can and can’t be eaten are different. How have these differences sorted themselves out and developed in Israel? Which traditions prevail? Does everyone abide by their own traditions or has there been some meeting in the middle?
A main difference between Ashkenazic and Sephardic customs on Pessah is whether "kitniyot" may be eaten. For the most part, Ashekaniz Jews have maintained the custom of refraining from the pea and bean family as well as rice and peanuts and their derivatives. They are not "hametz ", yet it was felt that if they allowed to be dried and grounded and mixed with water, it would yield a potential for leavening.
The Sephardic community did not adopt this particular "fence around the Torah" and continued eating kitniyot with no concern. Given that people tend to invite others for a seder and for holiday meals, things need to be worked out so that everyone at the meal can feel comfortable to eat together.
Some authorities say that kitniyot derivatives are less a concern than the products themselves—just a reminder that neither of these are hametz —and some new olim feel that it is appropriate to adopt the prevalent custom of the land, which is to eat kitniyot, or at least their derivatives.
There are also many Jewish communities that do not eat matza or matza products in liquids, and will not have matza balls or fried matza or what is called "gebrochts", meaning broken matza in a liquid of any sort. Those who don''t eat "gebrochts" or "shruya" will do so on the last day of Passover.
Is it a special mitzva to celebrate Pessah in Israel?
There is a special mitzva to celebrate Passover in Israel, given that it is one of the three pilgrimage festivals that called the Jews in the Holy Land to come to the Holy Temple to offer the Pessah sacrifice there. We have many references to the Holy Land and the Holy Temple in the Haggada, and towards the end of the seder, all sing "Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt!" It is understood by many of our great sages that the Exodus from Egypt had its culmination not in the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai but in God bringing the Jewish people into His land. Indeed, one of the most popular end-of-seder melodies called "Adir Hu" sings of God helping us to rebuild the Holy Temple, which was the epicenter of not only Jewish life in Israel but also of Passover celebration throughout the millennia.
Would you argue that the meaning of Passover is relatively universal for most Jews and Jewish communities, or is the symbolic, communal and religious significance of Passover different for Jews in Israel and those in the Diaspora?
Jews around the world focus on many of the same themes for Passover—the journey of slavery to freedom, God''s providence, the importance of study and passing on the Jewish heritage from generation to generation; but, I have to say that in Israel it is easier to feel Pessah in the air and to connect to it. For example, in our neighborhood I sold my "hametz ," "kashered" my utensils, burned my "hametz " the morning of Passover and could have baked my own matza, all within a couple of blocks. When everyone is "doing" Pessah around you, it is easier to feel the gravity of the holiday and become attuned to its messages. One is not an anomaly in Israel, neither does one stick out like a sore thumb nor feel like a salmon swimming upstream when preparing for or observing the holiday.
This gives a person great enthusiasm to look forward to celebrating and enjoying the holiday emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, and makes it extremely special. We do have to be careful, however, not to get caught in the minutia of the holiday, and remain intensely focused on its messages, which can transform us each and every year.