10 Passover Traditions to Spice up Your Holiday
Updated: Apr 29
Being Jewish in Israel is a different experience when the holidays roll around. With Jews making aliyah from all over the world, the traditions practiced here are as colorful and diverse as the people themselves.
We went down to the local watering hole (thank you, Secret Jerusalem) and asked our friends in Israel to share their traditions with us, and oh, did they share. Some traditions date back thousands of years, and some (as you will see) are pretty modern inventions.
01 Blood on the door
There are around 85,000 Indian Jews in Israel and they did not leave their traditions at the gate when they came. Ze'ev Steeve Galsurkar, an Oleh from Mumbai, shared one of his community's traditions. The Bene Israeli community uses goat blood to make a handprint on a piece of paper and put it on the doors. Just like the Jews did in Egypt, they do it so people can see it's a Jewish home. In India, they keep the handprint on the door all year round, but here in Israel, they take it down at the end of Pesach.
02 Whipping with onions
If you're Persian, your seder might be a little more interactive. They pass around a plate of scallions and everyone runs around whacking each other. It is meant to be a symbol of the slave drivers in Egypt, although the re-enactment sounds a lot more fun. In some houses, just the kids do it. During Dayenu the kids run around the table hitting adults on the head with the green onions!
"My husband is Persian. The first time I went to their house I was shocked. We then did it at my parent's house and they loved it. My dad always said, “to keep the kids awake.” -Fortune Mizrahi Damavandi
03 Re-enacting the exodus.
Some people take the obligation to see yourself as if you yourself were redeemed from Egypt very seriously.
Yitzhak Sasson shared that after splitting the middle matzah his family sticks the afikomen piece in a pillowcase, slings it over their shoulders, and plays out this dialogue:
Person A: Where are you coming from?
Person with the pillowcase: Mitzrayim (Egypt).
Person A: Where are you going to?
Person with the pillowcase: Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).
Person A: What are you taking with you?
Person with the pillowcase: Matzah and Marror (bitter herbs).
Over the years his family has said it in English, Hebrew, Japanese, and Russian, but many families recite this dialogue in Arabic.
04 Catch a treat!
The Passover seder is all about the kids so people have some creative way of keeping them interested (although, I think it keeps the adults awake too). Shayna Letter told us that every time someone asks a question at the Seder, they get a marshmallow thrown to (or at) them. I don't think they had marshmallows in Egypt, but if they did, I'm sure they would have used them too.
Other families dress up or bring props to the table. Moshe Halevi's family puts together plague bags filled with symbolic items like styrofoam balls, wind-up insects, disappearing ink, sticky frogs, dark glasses, puzzles that spell out the plague of the firstborn in Hebrew, and more!
05 A two matza Seder
If you look at most Seder tables, you will find three matzot (matzahs) that are used during the Seder. Rochel Stoklasa's family does things a little differently.
"We only use two matzot at the Seder - it's the minhag (tradition) of the Gra. Apparently, three matzas are minhag, not halacha (Jewish law)!" - Rachel Stoklasa
06 Modern-day exodus stories
For some families, the exodus story hits very close to home and they use this time to also commemorate the family that was murdered in the Holocaust, and also those that survived.
My grandfather, no longer with us, almost never spoke about his experience in the Holocaust - except at the Passover seder. That was basically the only time he would tell us stories of what happened. Definitely not as fun as some of these other traditions but just as special. - Talia Guigui
One year, we were invited to a Seder where the grandmothers were both Holocaust survivors. Before the Seder started, the family read in unison a short prayer that was read out in Treblinka when it was not possible to celebrate Passover and Seder night in a customary manner. It was so moving we have adopted and read this prayer in our own Seder service. - Robert Kleiman
07 Pour the wine, get married!
At a Moroccan Seder table, they don't want to miss the chance to help the ladies find their soulmate. If you want to get married, you wash your feet with the wine poured out during the 10 plagues.
"We take off our shoes at the table and my Moroccan grandma would wash our feet in wine. My cousins, sisters, and I all did it! (It works)." - Maayan Ora Russell
08 Who needs a plate?
The Temani Baladi tradition (from Ofer Maimon) is to use the whole table as the seder plate. They place all the items that are typically on the seder plate directly on the table in the same order. The entire table is covered in vegetables!
09 Ring around the seder table
Many Middle Eastern traditions (Libyan, Moroccan, Tunisian, etc...) go around the table with the Seder plate and circle it around each participant's head while either singing Mah Nishtana or bibhilu (בבהילו יצאנו ממצריים). Tuvit Shlomi found herself at a seder with a plate of lettuce over her head. "How do I smile at a camera on a hag (holiday) with a plate of lettuce on my head? This was such a great seder!"
It's not supposed to be a tough sport, but some people are a little mischievous.
My family is Egyptian/Syrian and they do this too. I think that there is sometimes a deliberate smacking of the head. - Elana Allen Amminadav
10 What came first, the Haggada or Shrek?
"How old does a tradition have to be? Rachel Selby asked. For the past 20 years in our family, every time we read the word Halleluya during Hallel we sing the refrain from Leonard Cohen's Halleluya, followed by a chorus of, "And then I saw her face, now I'm a believer..." It started when the children read the word Halleluya in the Haggada and thought it came from the movie Shrek."
We will be sharing more traditions on our social media every day of Passover.
If you have a special one, send it to us!