Where in the world can you do what my family and I did for Passover? Nowhere else but here.
But first, let's recap one of the greatest stories ever told.
Around 3,500 years ago, the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt. After wandering in the desert for forty years, their leader Moses dies without ever setting foot in the Land of Israel. God chooses Joshua to guide the people and orders him to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
The crossing begins as the priests walk ahead carrying the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders. They step into the rapidly flowing Jordan River, trusting that God will protect them as they cross.
From the Book of Joshua 3:15 Now the Jordan keeps flowing over its entire bed throughout the harvest season. But as soon as the bearers of the Ark reached the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the Ark dipped into the water at its edge, 16 the waters coming down from upstream piled up in a single heap a great way off, at Adam, the town next to Zarethan; and those flowing away downstream to the Sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, ran out completely. So the people crossed opposite Jericho
The Bible states that God performed a miracle and the waters of the mighty Jordan stopped flowing and allowed all the Children of Israel to cross safely to the other side.
Joshua 4:9 And the LORD said to Joshua: 'Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.' So that place was called Gilgal, as it still is. 10 Encamped in Gilgal, in the steppes of Jericho, the Israelites offered the passover sacrifice on the fourteenth day of the month, toward evening.
So seeking adventure, camping, meaning and spirituality, my family and I joined a group of about 120 Israelis and celebrated the first day of Passover in the wilderness. This group, organized by the remarkable Dvir Raviv, a student of archaeology and Jewish history, started this tradition five years ago.
We camped in Gilgal,on the steppes of Jericho, where tradition states the ancient Israelites stayed upon crossing the Jordan River. We ate the Passover meal, the Seder, where the Israelites held their first Passover meal in the Promised Land. And we did this on the fourteenth day of the month of Nissan, the first day of the festival of Passover.
Talk about meaning! It was mind-blowing.
The ancient (and modern) city of Jericho lay two kilometers to our west; the ancient city of Adam, where the waters of the river were miraculously held still, was a little distance to the north; the Jordan River and the place of the crossing was a mere kilometer to our east; the Dead Sea, a short ten minute drive south.
Judge for yourself. Here are some tidbits and great photos from our experience:
The site of the Israelite crossing of the River Jordan was a revered place for generations. In the 4th century c.e, it became a Christian pilgrimage site as the traditional site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Today it’s called Qasr el Yahud, (Arabic for ‘the crossing of the Jews’), and the countries of Israel and Jordan offer baptismal facilities on both banks of the river.
We camped in a deserted date-palm tree grove amidst the gorgeous beauty of the Jordan Valley.
The food was pre-cooked and delivered by caterers a few hours before the feast. Some of us were in charge of digging a fire-pit and warming up the food, while others set tables and prepared the kitchen area.
As Jewish tradition mandates, all 120 of us began reading the Haggadah together, recalling the story of the Exodus, how God led our people from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Land of Israel. Pretty soon each table went off at their own pace, reading and laughing, singing and bellowing into the desert night. It was quite a wonderful cacophony!
The next day, first day of the festival of Passover, included many activities to choose from: resting, praying, hiking, roasting the Pascal Lamb for lunch, sleeping, tai-chi or study lessons from our sacred texts.
Most of the group packed up and left after dark but some friends and us stayed on for another night . We lit a bonfire, cooked some potatoes and onions in the flames, pulled out a guitar and had a great time.
Following in the footsteps of your biblical characters of choice — Joshua and the Israelites, Jesus, King David, Jezebel or Samson… it can only be done here, in Israel.