Passover: Freedom in the sun


There are many restrictions for the holiday of Passover – none of which are felt during Passover getaways which it has been reported more than 125,000 Jews participate in annually.  Writing this article while on one such trip it’s clear why these trips are so popular. Anyone knows Passover cleaning – and Seder preparation – is a handful. So, too is entertaining kids while off from school for 10 days, so it was an easy decision this year to come on a trip like the one I am now on in Miami.


“For many observant Jews, the attraction of leaving home is two-fold: getting away from the drudgery of Pesach cleaning, as well as traveling to a fun, friendly place where food, intellectual stimulation and even physical activity are plentiful and appealing,” says Raphi Bloom, founder and CEO of Bloom added,  “The week of Passover is the now the busiest time of year for Jews to emulate our ancestors and pack up for a trip.”


While The New York Post detailed the “Poshest Passover in the World”, which my friend Joey Allaham of Prime Hospitality  ran, the description provided there which said these trips , “..combines the best of our Jewish traditions with a superior five-star luxury vacation” is absolutely true.


The trip I chose is no less gluttonous – the Presidential Passover program at Turnberry Isle Miami, a hotel which is one of Travel & Leisure Magazine’s “World’s Best Resorts.”  The resort is a 300 acre exclusive enclave in Aventura, Florida with two pools (which have kosher for Passover food available poolside), golf and tennis courts and more.  There are kids clubs, lectures, and so much more.  It’s really a getaway – and something where one does not at all suffer from the sacrifices of Passover.  The Presidential Program is really top-notch and a 5-star plus experience for people of all ages.


The only bad part – is the inevitable weight gain of food nonstop.  Nothing says freedom like sitting in the sun at a luxury resort, surrounded by family and great food and fun things to do– on Passover.


Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur – who enjoys the sun on Passover.

Don’t trust just anyone with your shaimos

In heavily Jewish populated neighborhoods of Brooklyn, a lucrative business thrives just before Passover as companies offer to truck away worn sacred texts to bury them as prescribed by Jewish law. However, this year some of those doing the hauling are unscrupulous. Treating the shaimos with such disrespect that some of the discarded texts have ended up on the street.

Bringing Passover to Ukraine

They want to make certain that no Jew, no matter which side of the ceasefire line they live in, goes without Passover in Ukraine. So the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is there, distributing matzos and hosting Seders.


Jews all over the world are gathering around dinner tables Monday night to celebrate the first night of Passover, one of the most important festivals of the Jewish calendar. And in the small, northern Spanish town of Ribadavia, Spanish, American and Israeli Jews are coming together to conduct the first Seder there in more than 500 years.

The holiday commemorates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, a story retold during the ritual Seder dinner. As part of the service, it’s customary for the youngest at the table to ask, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” This year, the question has even greater meaning for American Erika Henik and her family of eight.





Israeli Aviram Paz recently came across two rare versions of the Passover Haggadah, including one used by Jews serving in Iran during World War II. Paz, 60, has been amassing a collection of 8,000 Passover Haggadot for years and storing them in a secure climate-controlled room at his home in Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek.

One Passover Haggadah found by Paz was made by Jewish soldiers who served in the British military during World War II and were stationed in Iran from 1942 to 1945.



A plague of locusts descended on agricultural farms in Giza and on Cairo. Egyptian Agricultural Minister Salah Abad Almoman said the swarm is comprised of an estimated 30 million insects and was causing great damage.

In Cairo, residents burned tires to create a black fog to keep the locusts from settling in the city. Swarms were also reported to have reached Egypt’s Red Sea city of Zafarana, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Cairo, and then the Upper Egyptian city of Qena where locusts appeared in at least three major villages.

Passover: Israel’s missed PR opportunity


JERUSALEM –  It is often said that we sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. So it goes for Israel’s PR efforts.

Israel suffers everyday. We suffer from a lack of global understanding of the true facts. And this suffering transcends into threats to our very physical survival. The war of words is overlooked by Israel and the Jewish community for the war of bullets.

Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Hamas and Islamic Jihad backed Palestine (there is no entity as Palestine – but it is carved here for purposes of SEO) have millions of dollars to retain the best, most creative PR and advertising agencies. And it shows.

Their marketing events such as the “Flotilla,” “Global March on Jerusalem” and the “Apartheid Wall” protests are right on target.

So where does Israel miss the Flotilla boat?

First, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has very little money. They are lucky to pay their rent in Jerusalem and in embassies around the world. Recently, diplomats from the MFA went on strike just so that they could feed their children. There is no money for PR. They have a meager training budget and that’s it. They rely on non-profit and volunteer organizations such as The Israel Project, CAMERA, MEMRI – The Middle East Media Research Institute – and all of which do a fine and noble job. We can’t forget support from the ADL, AJC and the WZO.

But even they suffer from being overwhelmed and under staffed by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigns coming from all directions. They are putting out fires. Little time to create potent strategies and powerful campaigns let alone able to look at the big picture.

Case in point is Passover.

As Jews we all celebrate it. We honor it. We even eat matzah and gefilte fish. But we totally neglect it in addressing Israel’s existence today. Yes, we talk among ourselves about being freed from slavery in Egypt but we totally neglect getting out the Passover branding and messaging for Israel’s right to exist today!

When Iran and the Arab world talk about “occupation” – we must ask ourselves and those around us, what occupation?

Did we not reenter Israel thousands of years ago from Egypt? Where were the Palestinians then? Did we occupy their land? Did we rape their women and steal their houmous and camels?

Israel should give Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich citizenship and make him a deputy foreign minister. He has done more to address the real status of Palestinians than anyone else since 1964, calling them an “invented” people.

When the pro-Hamas Palestinians say “occupation” we need to say “Passover.”  When the pro-Hezbollah Palestinians say Jerusalem, we need to say “Passover.” When President Obama refuses to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (that is when he is not campaigning for president) we need to say “Passover.”.

Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. This was in 1446 B.C. In Jewish tradition, Jewish ancestry is traced to the Biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the second millennium BCE.

The Palestinians did not build Jerusalem. Jews did!

King David of Israel first established Jerusalem as the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel in c.1000 BCE, and his son Solomon commissioned the building of the First Temple in the city. Now let’s go fast forward. Yasser Arafat invented a nation called Palestine in 1964. There were no Palestinians – these were Arabs who lived in the biblical, historical land of Israel who chose war to exterminate Israel rather than having their own state in 1948.

But you see what we are doing? We can’t see the forest for the trees as we deal with all of these dry and boring dates.

We need simple, exciting sound bytes.

“Israel wants peace – not propaganda and missiles.”

Solution: display advertising on buses and subways, from Moscow, Paris, Geneva and London to Washington, Tokyo, New York and Toronto. Banner ads on Facebook and Google all asking: “Israel. What occupation?”

Or “Are The Palestinians An Invented People?”

Add some small print with details. “Jews in Israel over 5,772 years. Palestinians: a people created in 1964.”

Yes, Israel wants peace. This tiny democracy that gave away Gaza for what? More missiles and lethal rhetoric.

The Arab agenda is simple. They deflect away from the lack of employment and human rights in their own nations and use Israel as a media diversion. Do they care about Arabs living in Israel? Heck no. They push for Israel’s total destruction. Not because they see Israel as a threat but because they see democracy as a threat.

We need to have five questions on Passover. The fifth being: “how long has Israel been in existence and why do we call Arabs – Palestinians?”

We need to ask this question to journalists using inexpensive but far reaching social media during, before and after Passover.

Pass the matzah and wine.

The author has practiced professional PR and public affairs for over 25 years. He has served as a senior media consultant to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IDF. He can be found at,, and

1st seder in the Holyland

MIVASSERET ZION, ISRAEL – The little girls stood on stage holding up a child’s painting of the 10 Commandments, quietly but confidently singing “Who Knows One,” the traditional Passover song about Jewish icons such as the Five Books of Moses, the Four Matriarchs, the Three Patriarchs, the two Tablets that Moses brought from Mount Sinai and the Oneness of God.

It could have been a scene from any number of school Passover presentations. But these children were new immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia, demonstrating their Jewish knowledge for family members who, with them, are about to celebrate their first Passover in Israel.

This Friday night, an estimated 5,500 members of the “Falash Mura,” the extended family members of Ethiopia’s Jewish community, will hold seders together in absorption centers throughout Israel sponsored by The Jewish Agency and by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In groups, they will celebrate both Passover and their new lives in Israel, for the first time using a Hebrew haggadah – and, in many cases, experiencing their very first seder.

To prepare, this week, the olim (immigrants to Israel) held model seders in each absorption center, including in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion. With its apartment units stretching out for blocks – punctuated by playgrounds and communal buildings such as a library and auditorium – the Mevaseret Zion absorption complex is by far the largest of The Jewish Agency’s 22 such centers, including 16 that cater specifically to new olim from Ethiopia.

Among the dignitaries who greeted the immigrants were Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews; Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel; Colonel Zion Shankur, the highest-ranking Ethiopian in the Israel Defense Forces; Ambassador Belaynesh Zevadia, Israel’s first Ethiopia-born ambassador, and prominent Ethiopian-Israeli singer-songwriter Maski Shabiro, who entertained the group of approximately 100 immigrants with a heartfelt rendition of an Ethiopian folksong.

In fluent Hebrew accented heavily in Russian, Sharansky related his memories of making a seder while imprisoned in Siberia, using water instead of wine and bread instead of matzah (“because what can you do”), and reciting as much of the haggadah as he could from memory. Later, after his release and his own immigration to Israel, he flew to Ethiopia to escort a group of Jews there on their own flight home.

“I didn’t understand a word anyone said,” he remembered, “but when the pilot announced that we were over Jerusalem, everyone cried ‘Yerusalem! Yerusalem!’ and I realized I was part of a modern-day Exodus, the return of Jews from every direction – toward Jerusalem.”

Rabbi Eckstein, whose organization is a major donor toward programs that assist Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, earned enthusiastic applause from the participants by sometimes breaking from his Hebrew address to speak in Amharic, Ethiopia’s native language.

Addressing the veteran Ethiopian olim in attendance, such as Colonel Shankur and Ambassador Zevadia, Eckstein said, “It’s not just that we are proud of you, you are also role models. You show the next generation of new immigrants that with hard work, they too can succeed. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.”

“Your job is to work hard,” he told the assembled Ethiopian-Israelis. “And our job is to accept and love you and help you all we can.”

In 2010, when the Israeli government decided to permit the remaining 8,000 members of the extended Ethiopian Jewish community to immigrate, it turned to The Jewish Agency to help prepare the group—made up largely of farmers – for their journey into the modern world. The next year, The Jewish Agency began administration of a complex in Gondar Ethiopia, where future emigres to Israel study Hebrew and learn about modern plumbing and how to shop in a supermarket.

Now, living at absorption centers all over Israel, the adults study Hebrew and Judaism, while the children – after attending classes at regular local schools in the mornings – receive extra academic help in the afternoons through a Jewish Agency program called Yesodot (“foundations”). In their courses, the 5,500 recent immigrants have been studying the stories and symbols of the Passover holiday, learning the haggadah along with an Amharic translation.

In Mevaseret Zion, many of the olim attended the model seder dressed entirely in white, the traditional Ethiopian attire for festive occasions. Colonel Shankur said that although it has been 30 years since he himself lived in an absorption center, the model seder “is still the most meaningful seder I attend.”

After briefly experiencing the highlights of a seder, the participants broke into dance, gesticulating their shoulders in a uniquely Ethiopian dance style.

“In Ethiopia, they ate matzah all year round,” said Yehudah Sharf, Director of Aliyah and Absorption for The Jewish Agency. “Here, it is only on Passover that they eat the ‘lachma anya’ – bread of the poor – because they have so many more opportunities. For them, now, eating matzah truly makes it a night to ask ‘what is different tonight from all other nights.’”



Beyond the 4 questions, a grown-up seder

By mollyjade/Flickr


This year, our family’s three youngest children could not make the seder.  But even they are adults in their very early 20s.  Their older cousins and siblings, ages 22 and 23, were the babies present.

Coincidentally, in preparation for Pesach, I had studied Rambam with my rabbi, Andrea Merow.  I came to appreciate that the emphasis is not on the traditional four questions, but our goal is inquiry that leads to the telling of the Exodus story.

So I prepared for a more grown-up seder.  On March 30, I sent an email note to our seder’s attendees:

Hi, all.  The four questions are not a seder requirement.  However, according to Rambam we need to raise questions that would lead to the telling of the story – with it feeling as much like a reliving of the story as possible.

So, in preparation for this year’s seder, please send me some suggested questions that might get us there – in as serious or as silly a manner as you like – and I’ll do my best to weave them in.  Please get  them to me by April 10.

My family stepped up to the plate (an apt metaphor, given that the Phillies ended up playing an extra-innings game on seder night,one that, sadly, they lost in the  12th, making many of our group’s attention to the seder an extraordinary testament to their engagement in the story-telling that resulted from their input). Here is the discussion guide from which we narrated the Exodus:

Questions / Telling the Story – Part 1

Why were the Jews slaves in Egypt to begin with?


“As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

With this in mind…how did the Jews gain their freedom, and at what cost to others?


At the time of the Exodus, was the land of Israel uninhabited?  How were the Israelites “directed” to deal with whomever was there? Are there any lessons to be drawn regarding how Israel is today dealing with new settlements on the West Bank and around Jerusalem?


Return to the Hagaddah for The 10 Plagues

Questions / Telling the Story – Part 2

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” -James Baldwin

Considering Baldwin’s words, why do we read the Haggadah every year?  Why tell the story?

Why don’t we tell new stories?


Connecting the story to history: Should we try to reconcile the Exodus story with archaeological findings/historical reporting?

Connecting the story to modernity: Many use the story of the Exodus as a template for understanding the modern world, e.g., American Slavery as Egyptian Slavery, Miriam as feminist symbol, etc. What risks do we run when we map the Exodus story onto present-day narratives?


Connecting the story to contemporary issues :  What does the ancient history of the region, beginning with the story of the exodus, teach us about current events in the region and inform US policy, e.g. on Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq?


Connecting the story to our personal experience:  Why on this night are the youngest children not present? Their freedom to be who they want to be?


Taking inspiration:  Tell about a person, living or not, most embodies freedom for .

The meal

In preparation for the meal:  Why on this night do we restrict what we eat even more than usual and is God really that interested in what we eat?


In the past, we’ve sought to keep the seder within the confines of children’s attention spans.  Each year, we’ve incorporated a new, creative addition — for example, decorating our own reclining pillows before sitting down at the table (we still use those pillows 10 years later) — but never had we purposefully lengthened the requisite elements.

Our seder — the discussion around our questions, the remaining required components and the festive meal — lasted 3-1/2 hours.  We loved every moment.  The conversation went in many directions, touching on the Holocaust, American slavery, Jewish slave holders, the civil rights movement, military presence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya…and more…and in the process we did tell the full Exodus story. Participants ranging from age 22 to age 86 shared equally in the discussion, sometimes sparring though always with mutual respect and open to learning from each other. In appropriate Pesach parlance, this year was different from all other years.

Our 20-somethings reverted to childhood when it came time to hunt for the afikomen (anyone without progeny was qualified to search).  When the time comes again that there are young children at the table, we will take joy in encouraging them in the traditional four questions and will happily keep the seder short enough to meet their needs.  But for now, it’s fun being grown ups.

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