Easter, Passover and Ramadan in Israel in April 2023
April’s always a popular month if you’re thinking about a visit to Israel - spring is here in earnest and everywhere you walk you’ll see pink blossoms, violet jacaranda and brightly coloured Israeli flowers in bloom.
April in Israel: Three celebrations in one month
But April 2023 is also particularly special this year because it’s the month when holy festivals from three major world religions coincide. Israel is home to almost nine million citizens - the majority are Jewish, but many are Muslims and 2% of the population is Christian.
Much of this month, therefore, will be dominated by events relating to Passover, Easter and Ramadan and today, we’re taking a look at how they are celebrated in Israel and what special rites, prayers and events they involve.
Passover 2023 in Israel
If you ask one hundred Israelis what their favourite Jewish festival is, we would bet at least 70% would say Passover! This is partly because it’s a joyous holiday but also because every Jew in Israel has memories of going to this famous holiday meal as a child - the songs, the rituals, the glasses of wine and the search for an ‘afikomen’. So what is Passover exactly?
Passover (or ‘Pesach’ in Hebrew) commemorates the ancient Biblical story of the Israelites fleeing the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt, who had kept them in bondage and misery and only agreed to free them after God sent ten plagues to the land. Led by Moses, the Jews arrived at the Red Sea and, with the help of a miracle, the waves parted and their release was secured, after which the waters came together once more and drowned the Egyptian armies pursuing them.
When is Passover 2023?
Passover is celebrated in 2023 from the evening of Wednesday, April 5th until the evening of Wednesday, April 12th.
Why is it called Passover?
The tenth of the plagues God sent to Egypt involved the killing of the firstborn son in every home - including the Pharoah’s own child. How did God know to omit the Jews from this plague? Because he told them to each family to sacrifice a lamb and with its blood, mark their front door with its blood. As a result, God ‘passed over’ the homes of the Jews and they were spared.
Seder Night 2023
The most famous tradition at Passover is not to eat leavened bread (‘chametz’) for eight days, commemorating the fact that the Israelites left Egypt in such haste that their bread had no time to rise. Orthodox Jews will clean their homes thoroughly before the holiday, removing all bread, flour, cookies, etc. and using separate plates and cutlery for the duration.
Seder ceremonial plate
Throughout the country, bakers take a well-deserved holiday so if you’re visiting Israel at this time and hankering for carbs, you might want to make a trip to the Old City of Jerusalem or Jaffa!
On the eve of Passover, millions of Israelis (and Jews across the world) gather together for a seder meal. ‘Seder’ in Hebrew means ‘order’ and this represents a ritual and an ‘order’ to the evening that stretches back thousands of years.
Families read from a special book called the ‘Haggadah’, sing ancient songs, drink four glasses of wine as they read and then sit down to a festive meal with matzah (unleavened bread).
Israeli Seder dinner
It’s one of the most beloved holidays and one in which almost all Israeli Jews partake in, however religious or secular they are. If you want to take part in one, contact a local synagogue may be able to put you in touch with a host or look on social media - there are always families who will open their doors to you - in fact, is it a commandment to ‘welcome the stranger’ on Passover.
Passover in Israel: Kids’ Activities and Free Museums
Because of the school holidays, there will be endless children-friendly activities all across the country, from theatre shows and dance performances to arts and crafts and puppet shows. Of course, many families who are not travelling abroad choose to head out of the cities, and Israel's top nature reserves and national parks will be busy.
Even better, throughout Passover week, over 40 museums in Israel will open their doors to the public for free. These include the Bible Lands museum in Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in the Non-Stop City, the National Maritime Museum in Haifa, the Science Museum in Beersheva and the Design Museum in Holon. A great way to keep your kids busy and improve their minds at the same time! Another local favourite is the Latrun Tank Museum outside Jerusalem, but this one isn't free. Interested in visiting the country on Passover? click here for a recommended Jewish Tour in Israel.
The Latrun Tank Museum, one of the largest of its kind in the world
Easter Week (Holy Week) 2023 in Israel
Easter is a much beloved time for Christian pilgrims and, arguably, there’s no better place to be than in the Holy Land for Holy Week…
Good Friday to Easter Sunday this year falls between the 7th and 9th of April but Christian tourists will be arriving earlier, since there’s an entire week of events, commemorating the period between Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, then being arrested, tried and crucified then finally resurrected.
The empty tomb and miracle of resurrection
Palm Sunday 2023
Commemorating the day that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, surrounded by supporters waving palms and shouting ‘Hosanna’ (a term used to express adoration), Jerusalem will see a colourful procession with pilgrims waving fronds and walking from the Mount of Olives to St. Ann’s Church in the Christian Quarter.
Holy Thursday 2023
Remembering the moment that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, there will be masses across the city as well as services with the Washing of the Feet.
At the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (the spot at which Jesus prayed before his arrest) there will be a ‘Holy Hour’ in different languages, followed by private prayer.
Sunset view, from the Mount of Olives
Good Friday 2023
The most solemn day in the Christian calendar, the Old City of Jerusalem will be packed to capacity, with thousands of pilgrims (who have tickets to join the procession) reenacting Jesus’ route along the Via Dolorosa (‘the Way of Sorrows’) to Calgary (Golgotha).
Pilgrims will carry crosses, and chant prayers and songs, beginning at 11.30 am from the First Station of the Cross and culminating at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For Protestants, there will also be a meditative service held at the Garden Tomb.
The 9th station of Via Dolorosa: the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, St. Anthony Coptic Monastery
Holy Saturday 2023
Once again, there will be thousands of people in the Old City, as thousands head to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to witness the ceremony of the Holy Fire. According to orthodox tradition, it was on this day that a blue light rose up from Jesus’ tomb, from the marble slab on which his body was apparently placed for burial.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem will enter the tomb, knee, in darkness, then light two candles and spread the light around the church and afterwards to the waiting crowds outside. The chanting and jubilation will be something akin to fans at a football match! Be careful if you attend, since it’s always very crowded. Interested? click here to find a recommended Christian Tour in Israel.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
As dawn breaks, services of great rejoicing will be held all over the Eternal City. Commemorating the resurrection of Christ, head to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, St. Ann’s Church, Pater Noster, Mary Magdalene and Dominus Flevit (all on the Mount of Olives) or the Garden Tomb to participate.
There will also be processions, singing and the ringing of bells all across Jerusalem - it is a day of tremendous celebration in the Christian calendar. Similar services will be held all across the Holy Land, in Bethlehem, Nazareth and all over the Galilee.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim calendar, and although its literal meaning in Arabic is ‘hot month’ it never falls in a particular season. Ramadan lasts for 30 days and in 2023, it falls between 22nd/23rd March and April 21st/22nd (depending on the sighting of the moon).
Ramadan is believed to be the month that the Holy Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and, as such, it is a sacred time. During this time, observant Muslims will abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. It really is a period of great introspection, spiritual discipline and communal prayer.
Laylat al Qadar 2023
One of the most important nights is ‘Laylat al Qadar’ which, in Arabic, means ‘Night of Power’ - when Muslims believe the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to stand before the Prophet Mohammed and recite holy verses from the Quran. Traditionally, it has always been regarded as an opportunity to ask God to give blessings and forgive sins.
In practical terms, two main meals are eaten per day - one before dawn and one as dusk turns to night. The evening meal breaks the fast and is known as an Ifthar. It’s customary to break it with dates (which are easy to digest and cut into hunger, curbing the urge to eat excessively).
In recent years, in Israel, there have been more and more Muslim communities reaching out to non-muslims with invitations to join these communal meals and if you’re lucky, you could well end up at one!
What to Expect if You’re Invited to an Iftar?
Iftars are always upbeat - everyone is relieved to eat and drink after a long day of fasting and after the dates have been passed around, people will sit down to all kinds of delicious dishes. Typical dishes include halal meats (chicken and mutton are always popular), fresh fruits and vegetables. Deserts are always fun - expect to find milk puddings (flavoured with saffron and pistachio), baklava and halva on the table, all to be washed down with Arabic coffee and mint tea.
In terms of dress, err on the modest side - you don’t want to offend your hosts so dresses below the knee, shirts that don’t show too much cleavage and nothing too tight-fitting. Women can bring a scarf to use as a head covering and men should avoid shorts. Finally, if you’re bringing a gift, go for flowers or chocolate - many observant Muslims do not consume alcohol at any time of the year.
If you’re interested in travelling in Israel and looking for a travel company to help you, look no further: we offer every kind of Organised Tour Package, day trips in Israel, countless private tours in Jerusalem and even Israel ship-to-shore excursions for every budget.