Pessah in the Holy Land

In light of the upcoming holiday of Pessah, we decided to feature a special Cafe Oleh segment on what is so special about celebrating Pessah in Israel. We talk to one of our resident and much-loved Judaism bloggers, KJ Hannah Greenberg, who writes the blog Middle Eastern Musings, on her experience of celebrating Passover in the Holy Land.
1. What is special about (or your favorite part of) Passover in Israel?
Our prayers reflect the land. More specifically, we pray, for instance, for rain in the period between Sukkot and Pessah. In North America, for many reasons, that timing seemed somewhat arbitrary. Here, that timing is perfect. Also, we bless the fruit trees during Nisan. In this case, too, the timing of the prayers coordinates with the reality of Eretz Yisrael. Finally, by the time we get to the seder, the environment reflects the separation of mundane from holy, and of chametz from permitted nourishment. Here, we are past the early blossoms that make the Golan so famous and deep into the fruiting of the grains. That the Counting of the Omer starts during Pesach makes tacit sense in The Holy Land.
How has your Passover observance changed since moving to Israel?
Since we live among Jews, in the Jewish homeland, many businesses and all schools close during Mo''ed. The loftiness of the entire holiday period has less probability of being dragged down by material considerations than it had hutz l''aretz (outside of Israel.) As well, many schools and businesses are lenient about attendance or give days off prior to the commencement of the holiday, resulting in a feeling, for all family members, of working together in preparing our inner selves and our homes.
2. Has your seder changed at all since moving to Israel? New customs or traditions? More serious or more relaxed? Just the same?
B"H, our youngest children passed from elementary school to high school here. Accordingly, everyone manages to stay awake during the entire seder, everyone brings learning from their respective schools to the table, and everyone articulates an opinion on just how dense the matzo balls, served at many festive meals, ought to be.
3. What''s your favorite Passover food or dish?
I cannot get enough helpings of Dvrai Torah. Out guests, for seder, for Shabbot, for "second days" and for Mo''ed, often come from various places. Our visitors usually have amazing insights to share and stories to tell. Pesach is one time of the year when my entire nuclear family (Sukkot being the other) kicks back from Earthly preoccupations for enough days in a row to really absorb such goodies.
4. Do you have any memorable Passover stories in Israel?
Afikoman. Hiding and reclaiming it is an art in my family.
One year, we naughty parents passed in under three connected tables all seder and would have kept it hidden had someone''s abba not worried that his precious child would not get a chance to find it (we still invited that family back, anyway).
Another year, after the kids were a bit older, i.e. more sophisticated in their psychoanalysis of their parents, we asked our rav questions about what to do if the afikoman wasn''t redeemed by the necessary time. We were told that another piece of matzo could be substituted. That year, the kids hid all twenty of our pounds of matzo while my husband and I were cleaning up from the main course part of the meal. We had to negotiate to get both the afikoman and the rest of our matzo back.
Yet another time, our deliciously presumptuous sons and daughters made, before the onset of the holiday, a ransom note for the afikoman. That precious communication, which, I think is packed away with my Passover dishes, consisted of cut and pasted letters from various print publications.... as if my husband and I would have had had no clue as to who stole our afikoman.