The festival of Pesach – Passover in English – is a 7-day spring festival of food, family and fun. People flock to Israel from all over the world to celebrate with friends and relatives. The first night of the festival is traditionally spent around the family dining room table, relating the story of the Exodus from Egypt and enjoying traditional songs, rituals and foods.
The first and last days of Pesach are festival days when businesses close, as they do on Shabbat. Some businesses also close during the intermediate days, known as Chol Hamoed, which has become a poplar time for family outings.
Because Pesach marks the start of the spring season in Israel, it is a great time to explore the country. The national parks and outdoor attractions prepare for crowds of visitors with their Pesach picnics. Barbecue is a popular way to get around the Pesach food restrictions and enjoy the spring weather – you can expect to find large families getting together to grill and eat meat in every green space and on the beaches too.
Hotels in Israel change their kitchens and their menus for Passover, sometimes a few days before the start of the festival. Bars are either closed or may serve limited range of drinks, because beer and whisky are not allowed on Pesach. The dietary rules are enforced by law and all stores have to cover up their non-Passover foods and are only permitted to sell food that is “Kosher for Pesach”. This does not apply in Arab stores, where bread can be found for sale during Passover.
On Pesach Jewish people eat Matza – unleavened bread – instead of regular bread. The rules prohibit eating bread made with flour and yeast, but experienced chefs know how to get around this restriction to create very convincing bread substitutes from potato flour and other alternatives. So it is not difficult to find restaurants serving Pesach pizza, burgers in Pesach rolls and other customized snack foods. Many restaurant owners do however close down for the week of Passover, because the work involved in making their kitchens kosher for Pesach and the cost of an entire new set of dishes, pots and pans is not always economical for them.
Many people take time off work over Pesach and the schools are closed for 3 weeks, so attractions are usually busy. Bank Hapoalim covers the entrance costs at a number of museums every Pesach – you can find the 2018 list of free-to-enter museums online here.
Pesach is traditionally a time for avant garde music festivals, which usually involve bringing a tent and your food and drink and dancing through the festival. The annual Zorba Festival takes place in the Negev Desert, and there is a BodyFest happening in Mitzpe Ramon. The Doof Festival is an annual spring celebration of trance music, with Israeli and International DJs hosting a non-stop 72-hour music festival on the beach at the Sea of Galilee
Religious highlights of Pesach include the Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall, which will take place this year on Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 April. We recommend arriving before 10.00am and finding a vantage point above the Kotel Plaza if you want to see the ceremony without getting crushed!
At the end of Pesach, the Mimoona tradition of Moroccan Jews is to host an extra feast. Traditionally very hospitable, the hosts will often invite visitors to come and share in the delicious sweet treats that are prepared for this feast.
If you plan on spending Passover in Israel, you may want to check with expert travel consultants which days the different attractions are open and closed, to avoid disappointment. Shatour Israel is happy to help you to plan your visit to Israel, either at Passover or at any time of the year.