Chol HaMoed and What to Do in Israel over Passover
Spring has arrived in Israel, in earnest, and with it comes the festival of Passover, one of the most beloved and most celebrated festivals in the Jewish calendar. However, Passover, unlike other festivals, does not last one or two days - it lasts an entire week - only of which two of these days are actually religious holidays! Complicated? Well, maybe, but let’s try and explain it here in terms that don’t have you scratching your head!
When you know it’s spring, you know it’s Passover
All Jewish festivals begin and end at sundown since the Jewish calendar is lunar. Of the seven days of Passover (in other communities around the world, Passover is celebrated for eight, but that’s another story) only the first and last day in Israel are days where observant Jews obey many aspects of Jewish law.
Chol HaMoed - the ‘secular’ days of the festival
The middle five days are referred to as ‘Chol Ha Moed’ - the ‘weekdays’ of the festival. The literal Hebrew translation is ‘application of the consent’ or ‘the secular part of the occasion’ and these days apply both to the holidays of Passover and Sukkot (which falls every year in the autumn, after the Jewish Day of Atonement).
In Israel, Passover is a much loved holiday, celebrated both by secular, traditional, and Orthodox Jews, in different ways. Almost all Israelis attend a ‘seder meal’ on the first night of Passover where, along with friends and family, they celebrate their freedom, telling once more the story of Exodus in the Bible, when the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt and became a free people.
A counter with spices at Jerusalem shuk. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHow to celebrate Passover over Chol HaMoed
However, even though the days that follow are not religious, all schools are closed and many people take time off from work, to be with their children or to travel, in Israel or abroad. Not all work is forbidden, according to Jewish law, but generally, if you are in Israel at this time of the year, you will notice that people are out and about, enjoying themselves and it’s quite common to find that businesses are closed for the entire week.
Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the things that are going on in the Holy Land this Passover, over Chol HaMoed. And, trust us, there is plenty to do, and not just for the kids either. The weather is good, everyone wants to be out, taking advantage of the best beaches in Israel, hiking trails, and desert scenery, but there are plenty of cultural attractions too. Best of all, many of them open their doors for free at this time of the year, so a day out won’t necessarily be hard on the pocket. So, pack yourself a matzah sandwich and some fruit, and enjoy yourself, wherever you choose to go…
What’s going on in Jerusalem over Passover?
1. Ice Eat Complex
Offering food and music and workshops, this is a great place to bring the kids. They can learn to make Passover muffins with a yummy chocolate frosting, enjoy storytime sessions and join in their ‘cooking hour’ with top chef Chen Koren. The entrance is free.
2. Passover at Train Theatre
Close to Liberty Bell Park and offering all kinds of puppet performances, both in English and Hebrew, there are storytelling sessions with music and daily shows here too, including ‘Goldilocks and the Three Pandas’, ‘Toto and Friends’ and ‘Yuka the Doll’.
3. Bloomfield Science Museum
With free entrance for kids to Bloomfield Science Museum, this is a fantastic day out in Jerusalem, giving the whole family a chance to learn about Leonardo da Vinci, Hypatia the mathematician, electricity, levers, and why buildings don't fall down! What a way to make science fun.
4. Passover at the Tower of David
If you want to learn more about the history of Jerusalem, you should visit the Tower of David. Take part in a ‘Hide the Afikomen inside the Box’ and crack the riddle or Climb to the top of the tower and enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the city. Or come at night for the ‘King David’ performance, and learn - through lights and music - about the boy who became King and founded this amazing city.
Bloomfield Science Museum. Photo credit: © Katya Savina
The world-famous Israel museum is hosting a special Children’s Exhibition over Passover, as well as ‘Family Tuesday’ photography sessions, recycling workshops, and storytime in the illustration library. You can also enjoy the sculpture gardens, and the Dead Sea Scrolls area and tour the model of the Second Temple.
6. Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
Offering free entry, this wonderful oasis offers a glimpse of plants from around the globe, and the opportunity to learn about biodiversity too. Wander from garden to garden and continent to continent, and escape the hustle and bustle of the capital for a couple of hours in Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.
7. The Bible Lands Museum
This is the place to go if you want to engage in some ‘Pharoah Mania’. The Bible Lands Museum is hosting a special exhibition for kids called ‘Egypt Here We Go’ where you can unravel the mysteries of Egypt, play online games and puzzles, enjoy crafts workshops and theatre performances and learn about the great Pharaohs!
8. Ramparts Walk
The best place to see Jerusalem? From above, on the ramparts of course! Not everyone knows about this tour but it;’s fantastic….and two different routes are included in the admission ticket. From the north side, you’ll go from the Jaffa Gate to the Lion’s Gate, close to the Dome of the Rock. The south side (easier for kids) begins at the Tower of David and ends at the Western Wall. Put on your walking shoes!
Ramparts Walk, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
What’s going on in Tel Aviv over Passover?
1. ‘White City’ Architecture Tour
Run by the Bauhaus Center, and recommended by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, if you’re a fan of this German design style, you can’t miss this. Each Friday, beginning at 10 am at 77 Dizengoff Street, their two-hour tour of the ‘White City’ architecture of historic Tel Aviv takes you through Rothschild Boulevard, Ahad Ha’am, Montefiore Street, giving you a chance to see how many of these classic buildings have been lovingly restored. There are also family tours and private tours available.
2. Yitzhak Rabin Center
Assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli extremist, Rabin’s memory - as a brilliant soldier, much-loved Prime Minister and ‘typical Sabra Israeli’ has been honored at this museum, which is wonderfully designed. As you walk through the passages of Yitzhak Rabin Center, on one side you’ll learn about Rabin’s life, whilst on the other side - concurrently - you’ll see what was going on in Palestine/Israel at the very same time. Moving and emotional. Free entrance.
Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
3. Food Tour of the Carmel Market
The Carmel Market typifies everything that is Tel Aviv - it’s chaotic, bustling, and sends your senses into overdrive with all of the sounds and smells on offer. Either walk around there alone or take a food tasting tour there, where you’ll mix with locals, learn about the history and the culture of the market and hopefully come away with some goodies for your pantry!
4. Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Showcasing modern art from both Israel and around the world, entrance to Tel Aviv Museum of Art is free this Passover. Not only can you wander their permanent collections, but there are also activities for kids such as ‘kaleidoscope’ (inspired by the Japanese artist Kusama’s work) and Shai Ignatz’s ‘Goldi’ portraits.
5. Jaffa Flea Market
Jaffa is the kind of place everyone falls in love with - wandering the narrow alleyways of the Artist’s Quarter, wandering down at the historic port, overlooking the Mediterranean, enjoying hummus at local eateries, and, of course, poking around at the flea market. It’s a treasure trove - bric-a-brac, vintage, furniture, second-hand clothes, and piles of toys on the floor. And if you’re really curious about the market’s history, then sign up for a Shuk to Chic tour!
Jaffa Flea Market, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
What to do in Haifa and Northern Israel over Passover
1. Haifa Zoo
A great day out for the entire family, this lovely little zoo has more than 100 species, including lemurs, meerkats, anacondas, Griffon vultures, camels, and the rare Persian fallow deer (who live almost exclusively in the Upper Galilee). All of the animals are in specially-designed habitats, and once you’ve had your fill of animal watching, you can enjoy their botanical garden and the Prehistory Museum in Haifa.
2. Madatech Museum of Science
A leading science and technology museum in Israel, Mada Tech offers more than 20 interactive science and technology exhibitions to its visitors. Learn about binoculars and microscopes or Leonardo da Vinci. Check out the solar system or discover what green energy is (steam, wind, solar), and don’t miss the exhibition ‘Smile’ where you can learn all about the teeth inside your mouth!
Hi-Bar Carmel National Park. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
3. Carmel National Park
Packed full of walking paths, bicycle lanes, dedicated nature reserves, and endless archaeological sites, Carmel National Park is Israel’s largest national park and you can easily spend an entire day there. There are scenic views both of the Mediterranean and the mountains, and hiking trails of all lengths and difficulties. Look out for jackals and eagles, and enjoy peace and tranquillity, even though you’re very close to Haifa.
4. The Old City of Acre
The extraordinary Crusader City of Acre has much to offer the visitor, including the Knights Halls, Templar's Tunnel, the traditional market, and the historic Acre port. Home, over the years, to Romans, Byzantines, Mamluks, Ottomans, and the British, it is steeped in history and actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. After you’ve explored the Turkish baths, mosques, and citadels (all built on top of Crusader ruins), eat lunch by the sea (the fish is excellent), and you can even take a boat ride (for a small fee) and see the city from the water.
5. Tour the Sea of Galilee
Arguably one of the most lovely areas of Israel, Galilee is a large area but a drive around the sea area is a fantastic day out. Explore the historical sites - the Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication, the ruins of a fourth-century synagogue…then head onto Ein Gev, where your kids can explore the kibbutz on a train and you can eat a good fish lunch, whilst overlooking the sea.
The route of the Old Akko walls, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
What to do in the Negev Desert and Southern Israel over Passover
1. Mitzpe Ramon
If you wanted to capture the spirit of beauty and silence in the desert, there’s no better place to do it than in this small town, which is home to an enormous Ramon crater. Here, you can hike, climb, abseil or just sit by the edge and enjoy the stunning views of Mitzpe Ramon. There’s also an Alpaca Farm nearby, which the kids will love, as well as the opportunity to spend the night at a Bedouin camp, complete with a bonfire and traditional dinner.
2. Ein Avdat Canyon
Close to Kibbutz Sde Boker, the burial place of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, this hidden gem of a hiking trail boasts springs, hiking trails, and a marvelous canyon, with steps carved out of the rock itself. Set within the striking landscape of the Zin Valley, the Ein Avdat canyon stretches for over 60 km and is home to all sorts of flora and fauna. If you’re lucky, you might even see an eagle soaring high above you!
3. The Negev Wine Route
Despite all the odds, there are a growing number of wineries in the Negev so why not explore them on this route? These include Nana Estate, Ramon, and Sde Boker wineries, all along Route 40 between Beersheba and Mitzpe Ramon. It’s a great opportunity to meet the owners who, in true pioneer spirit, have overcome the many challenges of working in such an inhospitable climate and are excelling in their trade.
Ein Avdat National Park, Israel. Photo credit: © Oksana Mats4. Timna National Park
About 25kms north of Eilat, in the Arava desert, lies Timna National Park, which affords the visitor extraordinary hiking and biking trails. Once home to a copper mine, dating back to 4500 BCE, it is home to extraordinary rock formations, in hues of pink, orange, red and brown. And if you’re really adventurous, you can actually descend down one of the ancient mine shafts…affording you relief from the heat of the ground!
5. Eilat over Passover
It might be a bit of a cliche, but who can resist Eilat at Passover? It’s a holiday resort, with all kinds of attractions - restaurants, bars, the famed Dolphin Reef, and Underworld Observatory. And because it’s on the Red Sea, you can snorkel, dive, jet ski, swim, or just hire a sun lounger and lie on the beach all day, looking out at the Gulf of Aqaba!
Wherever you end up going this Pesach, however, enjoy yourself, both at seder night and on Chol HaMoed and if you’d like to book a day trip in Israel with us, just contact us - we’re here to help.