Celebrating Freedom: Yachad Program for Jewish Identity Prepares Israelis for Pesach
Pesach represents transition – from winter to spring; from slavery to freedom. And in Israel this year, it also represented our transition from total lockdown in he face of Covid to the ability to live a more “normal” life.
The Yachad Program for Jewish Identity programming for Pesach reflected this transition. Communities across Israel offered a range of in-person events while also providing nationwide online events in Hebrew, Russian and Amharic.
“The vast majority of Israelis will participate in a Seder,” noted Yehonaton Shalem, the Yachad coordinator in Yavneh. “We want to provide as many varied opportunities as we can, to help them make it as meaningful as possible for themselves and their children.”
National Programs Offer Tools for an Engaging Seder
Yachad’s coordinators all across Israel ran four national online programs in the weeks leading up to Pesach to get people in the mindset of the holiday and give practical tools for creating an interactive experience.
“The Exodus from Egypt shouldn’t be viewed as a historical moment, but as part of our present that impacts us now,” explained Yachad Program director, Rabbi Shay Nave, at a Zoom workship devoted to the concept of freedom. “We need to read the Haggadah as if we are part of the story and consider our responsibility to the Jewish People today.”
Rabbi Mishael Tzion, another speaker at the Yachad-run event, added, “The Haggadah is not a prayer book. It’s not read in synagogue, but in our homes, as an instruction booklet whose purpose is to help us feel that the story of coming out of Egypt is our story. When we can truly read it in the first person, we have succeeded.”
“No one wanted to leave”
In addition to national online events, communities across Israel also coordinated some of the first in-person programs to take place in months.
The communal matzah baking activities attracted hundreds of children and their parents, informing them about matzah’s symbolism and significance as they gained hands-on experience preparing their own.
In Petach Tikvah, Yachad facilitator Aryeh Engleman offered programs for all age groups, including a very special event targeting teens and older adults. Fifty people sat in mixed age groups while the adult participants shared their personal stories of “yetziat mitrayim” (the Exodus from Egypt – as representative of gaining their personal freedom). “There was a wonderful atmosphere,” Engleman related. “People were just thrilled to be together. The teens were fascinated by the stories the adults shared, and no one wanted to leave at the end of the evening.”
An Opportunity to Connect
Mock Seders throughout Israel introduced people to the various elements of the Seder and guided participants in facilitating their own. Events held for the Ethiopian community addressed their specific cultural traditions and the challenges many face in engaging with their children, whose experience growing up in Israel is so different from their parents’ experience living in Ethiopia.
Seders held on Pesach enabled people anxious to celebrate the holiday with others to connect to their heritage in a festive communal atmosphere. These events were especially important to Russian-speakers with very limited background, many of whom are in the very early stages of their “Jewish journeys” and were thrilled to learn about the traditions and celebrate with their community, rather than on their own.
“The Seder should be viewed as an opportunity to connect,” summarized Uri Weill, Yachad facilitator in Tel Aviv’s old North neighborhood. Before and during Pesach, the Yachad Program provided yriad opportunities for Israelis of all backgrounds and ages to connect in a meaningful way to their families, their neighbors and their heritage.