Dubai: Passover is one of the most significant holidays of the year for those of the Jewish faith. It commemorates Moses leading his people out of slavery in Egypt. This Jewish tradition is celebrated every year in spring and kicks off on the 15th day of ‘Nisan’ of the Hebrew calendar, which in the Gregorian calendar, falls on the evening of Saturday, March 27.
Passover in the UAE
In September 2019, the UAE made a historic declaration by announcing a new landmark, which will feature a church, mosque and synagogue built in the same location in Abu Dhabi.
Then, less than a year later, the UAE normalised agreements with Israel on August 13 2020. The UAE now continues to pioneer tolerance in a move to become a global capital for acceptance and to instil the values of co-existence and peace.
This year UAE’s Jewish residents and visitors can celebrate Passover for the first time since the agreement was signed. "As a Rabbi, I've been celebrating and leading Passovers for close to a decade both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi," Rabi Levi Duchman told Gulf News. "But this year it is a very special Passover, as it is the first one since the Abrahamic Accords and it is so beautiful. It is a time where we celebrate freedom and tolerance."
"We live under a wonderful leadership here in the UAE. They are a fantastic example to the rest of the world. And this is what we need to teach our children."
Rabbi Levi explained that the children are the focus during Passover. "We encourage them to ask questions, take part in discussions, so that they can one day be leaders in tolerance and acceptance." Jewish children in the UAE took part in a Matza bake off, where they learned how to make a type of bread that was made in ancient Egypt. "We create special programmes for the children here in the UAE so that they can really be part of the celebrations."
Over the last several months, UAE entities such as Emirates Group and Al Habtoor Hospitality have already branched out into kosher offerings, to open up the opportunity for Kosher tourism. Being a Kosher-observant Jew is could be tricky when visiting destinations where the Jewish representation is marginal at best. However, the UAE and its hospitality businesses, is already making Kosher observers feel right at home. Al Habtoor Hotel for example was the UAE’s first hotel operator to introduce 24x7 Kosher-compliant in-room dining services at three of its properties in Dubai. While Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism has started offering hotels free Kosher certification services for a year. UAE is also home to Ellis Kosher kitchen, the first Kosher cooking and delivery service in the country.
Passover is celebrated by having a Seder. A Seder is when Jewish people gather and read the Passover story in a special order from a book called the Haggadah. They tell the story of their ancestors and remind themselves that they are now free people.
A major part of Passover is the Seder dinner. This is where they eat traditional and symbolic foods that remind them of the Jewish people and their afflictions. These include dipping spring vegetables into salt water. The vegetable is a sign of spring or rebirth, and the saltwater represents the tears of the slaves.
They also eat bitter herbs, to remember the bitterness of slavery. Another common food jews eat during Passover is unleavened bread, which is also known as matzah.
The first two and the last two days of Passover are public holidays for the Jewish people, with candles being lit at night and delicious meals being prepared and eaten throughout. During Passover, many Jews do not go to work, write, drive their cars or use electrically powered devices.
“Observant Jews spend the weeks before Passover cleaning their homes. Even the cracks on kitchen counters are thoroughly scrubbed, to remove any traces of flour and yeast, however minute,” said Raphi Bloom, co-founder of TotallyJewishTravel, one of the most visited Jewish travel websites in the world. They need to ensure that their pantries and their kitchens are free of all leavened bread, i.e. bread with yeast.
Other things missing on the menu at a Seder are any other foods that have grain in them, known as “chametz.” This means dishes like pasta, cookies, bread or cereal are forbidden at a Seder.
Of course, everything has to be Kosher.
Being a Kosher-observant Jew could be tricky when visiting destinations where the Jewish representation is marginal at best. However, the UAE and its hospitality businesses, is already making Kosher observers feel right at home.
Over the last several months, UAE entities such as Emirates Group and Al Habtoor Hospitality have already branched out into kosher offerings, to open up the opportunity for Kosher tourism.
Al Habtoor Hotel for example was the UAE’s first hotel operator to introduce 24x7 Kosher-compliant in-room dining services at three of its properties in Dubai. While Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism has started offering hotels free Kosher certification services for a year. UAE is also home to Ellis Kosher kitchen, the first Kosher cooking and delivery service in the country.
“Many Kosher observing Jews would rather travel to a luxury destination, where a Kosher travel company can create Passover programmes for them,” said Bloom. “People will come to that particular hotel with their families for the 10-day festival, so they can enjoy luxury in a completely Kosher environment.”
According to Bloom, 70,000 hotel rooms are booked each year during Passover. Blooms’ travel website currently offers Passover programmes for March/April 2021 in the UAE.
The UAE is a relatively new travel destination for the Jewish tourist, yet its ideal springtime climate and opportunities for recreation for the whole family make it a very alluring destination.
These hotels have ensured that all cuisine will be glatt kosher-for- Passover under the strict kosher certification. “Usually, the hotel will allocate a private kitchen as well as a restaurant in the hotel exclusively used for the kosher observant jews,” Bloom explained.
History of Passover
The story of Passover goes a long way back. As far back as 1,300 BCE to the times of Prophet Moses. In ancient Egypt, a heartless Pharaoh was fearful that there were be too many Jews living in Egypt so he demanded that male Israelite babies be killed. Baby Moses, also an Israelite baby, was saved by his mother, who placed him in a basket and floated it down the Nile river. The Israelites were kept as slaves and the pharaoh refused to free them. So God brought about 10 different plagues.
One night, God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. God told Moses to order the Israelite families to sacrifice a lamb and smear the blood on the door of their houses. In this way, the angel would know to 'pass over’ the houses of the Israelites. This is why the festival commemorating the escape from Egypt is known as Passover.
As the Jews were fleeing with Prophet Moses, the Pharaoh sent his army after the people to bring them back as slaves. This is when Prophet Moses tapped his staff and God parted the Red Sea for them to cross, and as soon as they were safely at the other side, the waters flooded back, drowning all the soldiers. The Jewish people were saved.
Exodus 12:18 commands that Passover be celebrated, “from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.”
Similar to the Islamic calendar, the Hebrew calendar changes slightly every year, it does not match up with the Gregorian calendar.