“What is different this night than other nights?” is the traditional question that has been heard in Jewish homes at Passover for thousands of years. This year, the question is particularly meaningful for Jews in Israel and around the Middle East, as they celebrated the holiday Saturday night.
In Israel, with pandemic-related restrictions easing, extended families could once again gather for the feast commemorating the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt and 400 years of slavery. This year’s celebrations stood in stark contrast to a year ago when the spread of COVID-19 meant the usual holiday meal enjoyed with dozens of family members and friends was limited to a handful of close relatives. Israel was in lockdown, streets and shops looked abandoned, and elderly relatives could only visit family by video.
At a world-class pace, Israel has vaccinated more than half of its 9.3 million citizens. New coronavirus infections have dropped off dramatically in recent weeks. In turn, authorities have eased the air travel restrictions, so Israelis stuck abroad could come home for the holidays. Restaurants, hotels, theaters, and museums have been allowed to re-open for small gatherings of 20 people indoors and 50 outside.
In other parts of the Middle East, this year’s Passover was groundbreaking. The Israeli Embassy in the United Arab Emirates held its first Seder in Abu Dhabi.
Ambassador Eitan Na’eh, Israel’s first envoy to the Gulf state, posted a video online of his guests singing “Ma Nishtana,” a song usually sung by the children or youngest in attendance, asking the age-old question, “What is different this night than other nights?”
“’Ma Nishtana,” the timeless words of the Passover night,” Na’eh wrote in his tweet. “Well, here it is: the first Seder of the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, UAE, under the starry skies.”
There is a small population of 3,000 Jews in the UAE. It is said to be growing and thriving, unlike recent reports of the near-extinct Jewish communities that had stood in Yemen and Iraq for more than 2,000 years.
Na’eh took his post in January following normalization between the two nations last year as part of the historic Abraham Accords.