News Digest — 3/29/21

Adapting To COVID-Era, Passover Priestly Blessing At Western Wall To Stretch Across Two Days

Every year on the third day of Passover, thousands of worshipers gather at Jerusalem’s Western Wall plaza to attend a special “priestly blessing” prayer.

This year, due to the corona pandemic and the limited attendance allowed at the site, the prayer will take place over two days, on the second and third day of Pesach, which is Monday (29th) and Tuesday (30th).

Last year’s ceremony included only 10 priests, known as “kohanim” in Hebrew, residents of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.  This year’s ceremony marks the first time since the outbreak of the virus that kohanim across Israel will be allowed to participate in the traditional event.

As is the case every year, the ceremony will be attended by top religious and political leaders, among them Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Religious Affairs Minister Ya’akov Avitan, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation asked worshipers that attend the ceremony on Monday (29th) to refrain from doing so on Tuesday (30th) as it will allow others to attend also.

The Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall dates back to 1931.  It is traditionally held twice a year, on Passover and Sukkot.



Israelis Throng To National Parks And Nature Reserves On First Day Of Passover

Around 130,000 Israelis took advantage of the warm weather and Passover holiday on Sunday (28th) and visited the country’s nature reserves and national parks.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) said that approximately 1,000 people chose to celebrate the Seder on Saturday night (27th) in the parking lots in the nature reserves, which were kept open overnight, presumably taking advantage of the open spaces to hold larger celebrations under virus constrictions.

On Sunday morning (28th) tens of thousands of Israelis hit the hiking trails and sites around the country to enjoy the cooler-than-average spring temperatures.

Popular locations included the Tel Afek, Nahal Tavor and Nahal Kaziv parks, with the parks authority asking the public to avoid those sites due to congestion.

Additionally, thousands of people visited the beaches of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.

“On the eve of the holiday and during the first morning of Passover, many hikers came to the reserves and parks to enjoy our beautiful nature and heritage sites,” said INPA’s Raya Sorki, adding that cultural events would take place in the parks in the coming days.

Last year Israelis were largely confined to their homes for the Passover holiday due to strict regulations aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic.  However, Israel’s rapid vaccine rollout has led to a relaxing of restrictions in recent weeks.



Passover: ‘Our Story’ By Nadav Shragai

On Seder night we tell a story.  Our story.  The story of our Exodus from Egypt.  We tell it in order to be reminded, and to remember.  We, like other peoples, have a common language and a culture and history and a territory, but we are the only one who has a single story we repeat in the same form, in every home, in every community, on a set date, for thousands of years already.  Only we, the Jews, have a story whose first chapters were written by our ancestors, and whose later chapters, we write ourselves.

This unique night demands that once a year, we leave the here and now, our little everyday joys and troubles – from the election mess and COVID to making a living – to connect to “the Jewish people through the generations” and understand that we are part of those generations.  These terms are a little grandiose for most of us, but the Passover Haggadah simplifies them with the wisdom of the ancients.  We have an obligation to the past – our history is not devoid of meaning – and to the future, because we have a destiny.  That is how identity is created.

Try for a moment to imagine what our history would have been like without that memory – year after year, generation after generation, in the old Haggadah language, that none of the updates and renewals could replace.  Try and imagine what things would look like today if it hadn’t been for that challenge to exile, without the pleading for and faith in “next year in Jerusalem,” without Hillel the Elder or without other chapters from different parts of our history that found a place in the Passover Haggadah.  How would our lives look today – if they would look like anything at all – without the great journey of liberation that began when the Red Sea was parted, continued with 40 years of wandering in the desert, and finally brought us to the Promised Land?

We have returned to our land, to some extent inspired by the Exodus.  That huge drama has inspired a spirit of revolution and hope in other peoples and societies, too,  but only for us is it ‘genetic code.’  We are the only ones who see ourselves in this ancient and contemporary story.  We are the only ones commanded to feel it in every generation, to see ourselves and show ourselves as if we were the ones leaving Egypt now.

When David Ben-Gurion spoke at the UN General Assembly in 1947 and tried to convince the nations of the world that the State of Israel was a necessity, he asked the English and the Americans, who could remember exactly when the Mayflower embarked from England some 300 years earlier?  Did anyone remember how many people were on board, or what bread they ate?  In contrast, Ben-Gurion said, 3,300 years before the Mayflower set sail for America, the Jews left Egypt, and every Jew in the world knew exactly on what day, what bread they ate, how they left, and who brought them out.

Our creation story, which began with Abraham and reached slavery and then liberation from Egypt and redemption, is a story the Jewish people remind themselves of every year, in all conditions and in every situation.  Under the threat of the Inquisition and amid the horrors of the Holocaust, in exiles and pogroms, in days of peace and times of war and plague, because we know that this is our story.



Lost Tribe In India Prepares For Passover

The Bnei Menashe community in the remote northeastern Indian state of Manipur began preparing for Passover earlier this week, including by baking matzah at the Shavei Israel Hebrew Center in Churachandpur.

The Bnei Menashe, or sons of Manasseh, claiming descent from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.  Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the borders of Burma and Bangladesh.

Throughout their sojourn in exile, they continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity.

“Passover symbolizes the Jewish people’s deliverance, and it is a festival that resonates deeply with the Bnei Menashe,” said Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund.

“In the far-flung regions of northeastern India, thousands of Bnei Menashe sat down on Passover Eve to conduct the traditional Seder, which embodies the hope they have been nurturing for generations: to make aliyah and return to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.”

Israel has helped more than 4,000 Bnei Menashe make aliyah in the past two decades.

Freund said, “we hope that after 27 centuries of exile, the remaining 6,500 Bnei Menashe still in India will be able to celebrate Passover next year in their Jewish homeland.”



Holocaust Survivor’s Car Vandalized Eve Of Passover In Florida

Two anti-Semitic acts occurred in south Florida in the days leading up to Passover, according to local news outlet 7 News Miami.

In one incident, a Holocaust survivor’s car was vandalized with swastikas drawn on the windshield in Hallandale Beach.

Security footage was obtained by Hallandale Beach Police who are reportedly investigating the incident.

Pictures of the vehicle were shared by nonprofit foundation on their Twitter account.

“It’s a terrible occurrence anytime, but it’s especially so on the eve of a Jewish holiday,” said Jewish community member and CEO of the South Florida public relations firm Red Banyan, Evan Nierman.

Shortly thereafter in Miami, the phrase “Communism is Judaism,” was spray-painted onto the wall of an auto-center.

Passers-by expressed upset at the occurrence which area police are also investigating.

Nierman commented that “unfortunately, what we saw in South Florida over the last day or two has been a continuation of something that Jewish people have had to endure for literally thousands of years.”  His firm represents many Jewish clients according to 7news Miami.



Another Record: World’s Largest Matzah

In honor of the Passover festival, the Matzot Aviv factory in Bnei Brak in central Israel baked the world’s largest matzah.

Weighing in at 13.2 pounds, the massive matzah was nearly 20 feet long, 3.5 feet wide, and 0.16 inches thick.

The recipe for the record-breaking matzah included 15 and a half pounds of flour and two quarts of water.  It had a total of 119,000 holes across its surface.

The Matzot Aviv bakery was founded in 1887 by the Wolf family in Neve Tzedek, and sells matzot, cookies, and other baked goods to over 30 countries around the world.