This Passover, the Jewish people vacationed together - editorial

More people left the country last week than throughout the pandemic, many went to Sinai and a huge bulk vacationed around Israel.

Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Passover is one of those holidays that blurs the often thick lines between the religious and the national spheres. It’s not just the Seder, which surveys repeatedly show participation by an overwhelming number of Israeli Jews; it’s the entire weeklong holiday.

Most places of work are closed, enabling much of the country to travel and engage in leisure activities – all at the same time. How they do that represents a broad mosaic of Israeli culture.

Anyone paying attention could not help but notice the two mass exoduses. One was at Ben-Gurion Airport, where thousands of Israelis embarked on Passover vacations abroad. More people left the country this week than at any time since the onset of the corona pandemic more than two years ago. It was an encouraging sign that the tourism-related economy is going to get back on its feet after being decimated.

The other mass exodus was, ironically, to Egypt, where thousands of people decided to spend the Seder and holiday in Sinai. Armed with camping and diving gear, most said they were planning to hold a Seder in the quiet tranquility of Nuweiba or Sharm, and then spend the rest of the week off the grid at a slower pace than what we’re usually used to north of the border.

But the bulk of vacationers has spent the week within Israel’s borders, from the Golan to Eilat. A feature segment on N12 accompanied enthusiastic families and groups as they traveled the country, espousing the national treasures and beauty that can be found without traveling too far in any direction. One group was hiking in the natural grandeur of Timna in the Arava, while another was ensconced at the Kinneret, which one woman called the most beautiful place on Earth.

 A dolphin is seen in Eilat. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) A dolphin is seen in Eilat. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Beautiful and crowded. Various venues experienced severe crowding, with many closing their gates to revelers who arrived for a swim or barbecue. A little farther north, in the Golan Heights, the Jordan Park was shut to visiting hikers as it reached maximum capacity. Horror stories abounded of traffic jams and four-hour drives that would normally take 30 minutes.

That’s one of the built-in hazards that perennially pop up when nearly the entire population is on vacation at the same time in a country with limited destinations.

Jerusalem’s Old City, amid the unrest that marked the beginning of the week, was less crowded than it would usually be during Hol Hamoed, but both tourists from abroad and from within did venture inside the walls to experience its unique charms.

There were also plenty of options to choose from closer to home, from taking nearby nature hikes to hosting family and friends for picnics or meals, to simply sleeping late and puttering around the house.

However one chose to mark Passover, for better or worse, there was a sense that everyone was doing it together. Many people tend to shy away from crowds – especially understandable considering the corona connotations of the last two years.

But others find it a charming attribute of modern Israel meshing with old-time Israel, that sense of a shared experience and a ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling.

When we gather on Passover eve to recite the Haggadah, we’re told to collectively remember how the Jewish people were rescued from slavery in Egypt as if it was happening to us. Some people may not be able to get past the traffic getting to the Seder, but that’s also part of the collective experience that we share today.

And in our activities throughout the week, we are reaffirming our peoplehood and collective bond by celebrating Passover in the company of each other.

Sure, it can be crowded, noisy and easily fray the nerves. But witnessing the national parks, streams, wadis and attractions filled with families, and walking the Land of Israel along with them, is the very essence of belonging to something greater than ourselves.

We’re often an unruly, argumentative people. And when everyone is outside together – as it seems during the Passover week – it’s even magnified. But that same boisterous quality is something we should never lose.

May we continue to celebrate the holiday together, shoulder to shoulder – sometimes literally – with joy and wonder for the land we were brought into.