Immigrants to Israel Don’t Regret Dropping Extra Passover Seder
Why do Diaspora Jews mutter to themselves while they’re dragging out the matzo balls for their return engagement at seder No. 2?
BY: Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org
Rather than feeling a sense of loss, leaving the second Passover seder behind in the U.S., or France, or Turkey, or any other country of origin is touted as a perk of living in Israel that new immigrants to the Jewish state (olim) mention in the same breath as the universal availability of fresh pita and falafel.
But why do Diaspora Jews mutter to themselves while they’re dragging out the matzo balls for their return engagement at seder No. 2? Why, since the Torah is crystal clear that Passover is to last seven days, do Diaspora Jews have to tack on the eighth day, and the second seder? And why don’t Israelis need to do that?
For the answer, one has to look up—to the moon—because the Jewish calendar is a lunar affair. In the old days, witnesses needed to testify that they saw the new moon, thereby fixing the date that each month began (since the months could be either 29 or 30 days long). Consequently, without that expert testimony, those far removed from Jerusalem would not be informed when the month began—hence the timing of the holidays in the Diaspora. Since there is a day on each side of possible error, the ancient Jewish sages wisely tacked on an extra day to the festivals, as one of the first two days was bound to be right. In Israel, of course, no such precaution was necessary. Thanks to those witnesses, they knew the right day.
Although communications are vastly improved since the days of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish supreme court in Jerusalem), the custom in Diaspora communities of celebrating an extra day of Passover, and other festivals such as Sukkot, has remained in force. (Note: Rosh Hashanah is the one exception, as the Jewish New Year is celebrated everywhere for two days).
The 30 years since Gary (“Gary the Guide”) Kamen made aliyah from Chicago have, if only in this one respect, been nothing short of bliss.
“Did I miss the second seder? Not for an instant,” grins Kamen, whom JNS.org caught up with outside Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, where he was rounding up his tour group. Growing up with divorced parents, it was always the first seder with Dad and his family and the second seder with Mom and hers. Or vice versa. Now it’s one seder for family and friends alike, and then a dive directly into chol hamoed—the intermediate days of the holiday. Here in Israel, that’s a full five days (not four as in the Diaspora), during a time of year when olive blossoms burst into bloom and the air and lakes warm up appreciably.
“You know what a mechayah (“pleasure” in Yiddish) is? That first Pesach here was a mechayah!” added Kamen’s fellow tour guide Allan Younger, in a distinctly Scottish brogue. Even 20-plus years later, the memories are still fresh.
“I can remember what it was like for the first time not having to start all over again and drag out the leftovers like we had to back in Scotland,” he adds. “The truth is, day-old tsimmis (an Ashkenazi stew made from carrots, dried fruit, vegetables, and meat) does not taste good.”