‘Happy Holidays’ vs. ‘Merry Christmas’: A twist

‘Happy Holidays’ is meant to be inclusive, but knowing when Hanukkah was (a month ago) would be far more so; this ‘holiday season’ really means Christmastime

A festive Christmas party. (iStock)

Before Omicron directed my social life, I went to a Christmas party. a.k.a. “holiday party,” at which everyone was boosted and outside. It was brisk, but not cold enough to keep friends from being together. The hosts greeted me with, “Happy Holidays,” to which I said, “Merry Christmas,” and held them hostage to my lecture on why I hate the greeting, “Happy Holidays.” I was the only invited Jew. Their flustered faces and stutter conveyed that “Happy Holidays” was to help me feel included. I apologized too late. I had ruined their greeting. How should they greet me? Better yet, if one doesn’t know I’m Jewish, is it offensive to wish me a Merry Christmas? Yes and no. It’s complicated. Here’s what is going on for me.

“Happy Holidays” confuse inclusion with equality. The idea behind replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” is that there are minority groups in America, e.g., Jews, who are not included. “Happy Holidays” makes Hanukkah the Christmas-equivalent. But this is a false equivalence, and it not only does a disservice to Jews, in wrongly elevating Hanukkah to the sacred, but also by diminishing Christmas, robbing Christians of something that is valuable to them.

The argument for the “Happy Holidays” greeting is that because Christians have been imperialistic, and have erased everyone else (including Jews) from American culture, they now need to include us. But does including us demand that Christians must be punished by not being allowed to have anything Christian in the culture anymore? If we want Christians to stop erasing us Jews, Muslims, Hindus among others, does the greeting “Happy Holidays” erase the Christians themselves? Is the general wishing of Merry Christmas an assault against Americans of other traditions or no traditions?

Many Jews in my world wish to hear “Happy Holidays.” Greeting them should have nothing to do with Christmas. They want no association with a tradition celebrating the robbing and distorting of Judaism’s face. For example, a colleague’s dog received Merry Christmas wishes on Facebook. My colleague responded: “My doggies don’t celebrate Christmas, but they would like to wish you a happy belated Hanukkah!” At another spot on the December-Jewish-greeting spectrum, Jews with trees seem fine with Merry Christmas. Like Halloween, they explain, Christmas is a secular holiday. One might say that their celebration of Christmas is old school. It has nothing to do with Christianity.

Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are not similar holidays. Conflating Kwanzaa with Christmas in the US seems misguided. Southern enslavers justified enslaving black people through the story of biblical Ham violating his father, Noah; antebellum southern whites argued it destined black people to be enslaved as descendants of Ham. Crazy, right!?! They justified white Christian genocide in the name of a Jew, brown Jesus of Judah. Ham was also brown, but not Jewish. Sarah and Abraham spark the origin of the Israelites. Hanukkah comes over a thousand years later. It celebrates the re-creation of the fourth Jewish state in 166 BCE, when Jewish rebels killed a lot of assimilated Jews. We don’t mention that when we light our hanukkiahs to bring light into the world. Furthermore, it’s not a religious holiday. Jews do not make religious/sacred holidays out of military victories. Jews thus do not desist from ordinary activities and work on Hanukkah. So, what we should say at this time of year to Jews?

The party hosts said, “Happy Holidays” to be inclusive. However, more inclusive inclusion knows the holidays at the time those around us celebrate. Hanukkah has been over for a month. It is Christmastime in the states, not Diwali, not EID, not Rosh Hashanah, not Bodhi day. It’s Christmas, a US federal holiday. A great majority of Americans from differing ethnicities celebrate it.

Ironically, Jews are now included as a December holiday player, just as I was greeted at a Christmas party with “Happy Holidays.” Chabad (a Hasidic sect) lights an annual hanukkiah on the White House lawn, some Jews have trees, a Fox News host recently said a Christmas tree is also a Hanukkah bush, etc. Is it any wonder Christians and non-Jews think Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas? Let’s stop pretending it is. Let’s wish Christians and atheists who descend from Christianity a Merry Christmas. As for Jews with trees? If you want them, Tu Bi Shvat is coming. And for Jews like me, “Hi!”

14 Best Things To Do In Jerusalem

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Depending on who you speak to, you’ll get lots of different explanations as to why Jerusalem is so important, who the city belongs to and even what the most important place in the city is. One thing everyone can agree on though is that Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most important religious cities in the world.

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Jerusalem has a history that spans across millennia, a lot of which is there to explore and experience in the city, making it not just an important spot if you’re religious but also if you have even the slightest interest in history.

One of the biggest surprises of visiting though was definitely seeing how the city’s varied history brought together three distinctly different religions and how the city is important to each one. Typically religious sites in most other places across the world tend to be more important to just one religion, not several all at once and especially so not with how important and highly revered the city is to each religion.

 

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Then there’s how beautiful it is too! In some ways, it feels like walking back in time with buildings here that are thousands of years old – except, of course, updated and preserved for modern times.

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Suffice to say, a visit to the city is one that you absolutely have to add to your travel plans. Oh, and while you’re here, I’d recommend getting a guide.  You can easily explore without one but there’s so much detail to the city (for instance, the Via Dolorosa below) that you might perhaps otherwise miss if you just wanted around for the first time without know where you’re going to.

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Rather than carrying on about how amazing the Jerusalem is, let me show you exactly what I mean, as well as the very best things to do in Jerusalem when you visit.

1.) Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest site in the world for Christians and is reported to be built on the place that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The building as it stands was built and destroyed several times over thousands of years with what exists now being a rather huge and impressive church.

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Given its huge significance, be prepared to queue here if you want to see most of the main sights in the church with some queues lasting hours – especially so the queue to see Jesus’s tomb where he resurrected from.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also the most important and final spot on from the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage (which I’ll explain further below).

2.) The Western Wall or The Wailing Wall

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The Western Wall is actually what’s left of an ancient temple of Jerusalem and is a hugely hallowed site for people of the Jewish faith, Christians and Muslims. The wall was first constructed around 19BCE and is easily one of the oldest places to visit in Jerusalem.

When you visit, there are separate sections for men and women – with men having to cover their heads; women don’t have the same requirement though they need to cover their shoulders and legs.

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There’s a whole etiquette to visiting which, while not enforced (e.g. taking a few steps away from the wall, walking backwards so you don’t turn your back to it) is greatly appreciated as this is an important and much-revered site in Jerusalem (having a guide here was invaluable because the knowledge and details provided here really helps you understand why the Western Wall is so important to so many people).

3.) The Temple Mount or Haram esh-Sharif

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Haram esh-Sharif is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem – revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for multiple reasons. I’d attempt to go into each one but I feel like Wikipedia might best serve this purpose as it’s far too long and too detailed to get into here.

It is worth noting that this is one of the harder places to visit in Jerusalem due to its huge importance, making it reserved more for prayer than anything else.

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In modern times (i.e. these days), the stunning Dome of the Rock stands proudly on this site and is the most iconic landmark in the city. The central dome of this church glitters with gold and the colorful tiled exterior walls are absolutely beautiful. 

4.) Dome of the Rock

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As mentioned before, the Dome of the Rock is actually on the Temple Mount and is an intricately designed Islamic shrine, which – in addition to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

If you want to visit, be prepared to queue as admission is only allowed in at certain times (it’s used otherwise for religious purposes) and as such, be prepared to set aside a fair bit of time to explore it properly.

5.) Armenian Quarter

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Jerusalem has played host to a large Armenian community for many years and this quarter is packed full of charming ancient architecture and historical buildings.

Armenians also know quite a thing or two about pottery and ceramic works so this is a great spot to visit to grab yourself a souvenir. (By the way, there are 4 quarters in total in Jerusalem – the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter, The Jewish quarter and the Muslim quarter).

The center of the Armenian Quarter is located on the Armenian Patriarchate Road and spreads outwards to include the churches of St. James and St. Mark. This is a fantastic part of the city that is often explored less than the more well-known sites.

6.) Via Dolorosa

 

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Another hugely important site for those of the Christians the world over, the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Sorrow is reported to follow the route that Jesus Christ took when carrying the cross to Golgotha. It follows all the 14 stations of the Cross and when you’re here, you can follow this same route, ergo why this is a hugely important site for Christian pilgrims.

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On Fridays, you can actually follow a procession that is led by Franciscan monks through the Via Dolorosa. If you’re there on any other day (or to make the most of this route), it is worth having a guide who can point out each station as you go along.

7.) Christian Quarter

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Situated north of the Jaffa Gate and centered around the impressive Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Christian Quarter is an absolute must.

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Within the confines of this quarter is a swath of beautiful architecture from various ages, and a myriad of bustling Souks, markets, and pleasant cafes. Notable sites include the Ethiopian Monastery, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Protestant Christ Church.

8.) The Tower of David

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This complex actually has no connection to King David and is also known as the Citadel. Built in 24 BC, this ancient structure has stood proudly for thousands of years and was erected by the notorious King Herod.

Within this structure is the interesting Tower of David Museum that displays the history of the city and its evolution.

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It is also possible to climb to the rooftop of the citadel for fantastic views of Jerusalem across to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Highly recommend it, it’s one of the best views of the city and really helps you get a sense of where everything is.)

9.) Muslim Quarter

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If you are looking for a place to shop and experience local life, the Muslim quarter is one of the best places to visit. It’s perhaps the busiest of all the quarters with its bustling markets, busy restaurants and refreshing juice spots to cool off in the heat (it was sooooooo hot when we visited).

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Starting at Damascus gate, the Muslim quarter is bursting with activity and is a fantastic place to find a bargain, haggle with the locals or visit the historic Pool of Bethesda.

10.) The Cardo

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I was so fascinated and excited about this one as I’d just a few months before, seen the oldest mosaic map in the world (in Jordan) which referred to this spot.

The Cardo essentially was like this long as grand walkway with Roman columns adorning the path and a market bustling all around. The map in Jordan (the Madaba map) even showed the Cardo with the columns it would have had back then.

While you’re there, to get a sense of what this once bustling part of the city looked like, keep an eye out for the mural depicting the old city of Jerusalem.

11.) Jewish Quarter

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The Jewish quarter is where you’ll find some of the most important spots to visit in the city e.g. Western Wall and the Cardo, amongst others.

Now while you might not necessarily notice when you switch from one quarter to another here, you do notice a big difference in how the quarters are organized. The Jewish quarter being, perhaps with the exception of the Armenian quarter (and the main sight in it – the Western Wall) being fairly quiet compared to say the busier Muslim and Christian quarters.

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If you’re looking for a break from the crowds, this is easily one of the best parts of the city to explore.

12.) Mount Zion

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Another hugely significant religious site, Mount Zion is the place where Christ held the Last Supper and where the Virgin Mary lived during the later years of her life. For the Jewish community, this is also the place of King David’s Tomb.

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Located on this hill today is a variety of stunning shrines and churches; furthermore, you can also see the expanse of the city on a clear day.

13.) Kidron Valley

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Located between Mount Zion and Mount of Olives; this is one of the most ancient parts of Jerusalem. This is the area that both Muslims and Jews believe that the Last Judgment will take place.

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Archaeological excavations have found structures dating back as far as 4000 years old and various tunnels and temples are open to exploring such as Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the Pool of Siloam.

14.) Jaffa Gate

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This ancient gate used to be one of the 7 gates into Jerusalem and is quite the architectural masterpiece to behold. It was built in the 1500s and was done in an L-shape as a defensive measure to help slow down attackers.

It’s easily one of the best things to do in Jerusalem you want to get a sense of what it looked like centuries ago and can be done either as you enter Jerusalem or indeed, as you leave.

Memories from Old City of Jerusalem – Israel

The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most intense places on Earth! At the heart of the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religions, this one-kilometer, walled-in area in the center of Jerusalem is beyond words and cannot be missed. The Old City is home to the Western Wall (aka Wailing Wall and in Hebrew Kotel). This is the last remaining wall of what was once the Jewish Temple and is today the holiest site in the world for Jews.

Above the Western Wall lies the Dome of the Rock, which is important for Muslims as the site where the prophet Muhammad is said to have risen to heaven.

 

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Just a few minutes’ walk away lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where some believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters; The Jewish Quarter, The Armenian Quarter, The Christian Quarter, and The Muslim Quarter. The walled city is entered by one of seven entry gates, although the busiest for tourists is the Jaffa Gate next to which is the Tower of David Museum, providing the history of Jerusalem within the Old City Walls. Each quarter has its own unique atmosphere and observations, sites and smells, and experiences.

 

 

In the Jewish Quarter, for instance, the narrow alleyways are lined by the homes of Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jewish families and Yeshivas (schools for Torah study). Walking around, you can observe the residents of the Jewish quarter go about their daily lives. There are teenage students in the Yeshivas who are often here from around the world, children playing outside schools between lessons, men rushing around between places of worship – and of course, many people praying at the Western Wall. The houses of the Old City – and the Jewish quarter, in particular – are hotly contested real estate, and for good reason. They command spectacular prices on the rare occasion that they trade hands.

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The Jewish Quarter’s narrow alleyways open up as you reach the Western Wall Plaza and the wall itself. At times of Jewish festivals, the wall can be crowded, and observing the tourists brushing alongside daily prayers here is an interesting site. Anybody can go up to the wall, although men and women have separate areas. Men should cover their heads (there are paper kippahs available), and women should wear modest clothing. It is customary to place a small prayer on a piece of paper within a crack on the wall. Amazingly, the vast Western Wall represents just a tiny percentage of this elevation of the Temple, and the Western Wall Tunnels, accessed via the plaza, allow visitors to see even more of the wall underground. Also interestingly, within the Muslim Quarter is whats known as the Little Western Wall where the wall is once again exposed and visible. This is argued to be holier than the iconic section of the wall because it is closer to the ‘Holy of Holies’ – the holiest part of the Temple.

The Muslim Quarter is a huge contrast to the Jewish Quarter. Its streets are busier and more crowded, with vendors – especially within the famous Shuk – selling all varieties of products. In contrast to the other quarters where shops are generally selling religious or tourist-appealing products, here the Shuk is literally an ancient shopping mall in the 21st century where one can practice their bartering skills and buy almost anything imaginable. As in the Jewish Quarter, and the rest of the Old City, tourists wandering the streets of the Muslim Quarter find it hard to imagine how the locals go about their everyday business so normally in what is such an intense place. Kids play in the street, and men sit out in cafes smoking nargila (hookah or shisha).

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The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

 

The Dome of the Rock sits above the Western Wall Plaza, and while non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the building itself, tourists are able to tour the compound and nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Moving into the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, there is yet another change. Home to about 40 holy sites to Christians, in the streets here you will see priests and pilgrims from around the world. This quarter was constructed around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried. Within this hot patch of real estate, even the Church is divided, with different parts controlled by different Christian sects, meaning that there are often disputes over maintenance and some parts are in poor condition.

The Armenian Quarter is one of the four sections within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The other Quarters are the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Quarters. The Armenians have the smallest section in the Old City and take up 14% of the total area of the Old City. The Quarter is home to approximately 2,000 people many of whom are connected to the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenians have their own distinct language and culture and are ethnically neither Arab nor Jewish.

The Armenians originated from Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains and Iran. Soon after Jesus’ death the Armenians were converted to Christianity and ever since then have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  Armenian monks arrived in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD. Jerusalem’s Armenian community is considered the oldest living Armenian Diaspora community in the world.

Armenians have had a strong presence in the city since at least the fourth century, when Armenia became Christian. Their quarter is said to be the oldest living Armenia diaspora community. Thousands of displaced survivors of the Armenian Genocide relocated to this part of Jerusalem in the 20th century.

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Narrow Alley in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Armenians displaced from the former Ottoman Empire because of the genocide brought with them a special type of Turkish-style ceramic, which has since become synonymous with Jerusalem and Armenians. It’s now used for all the street signs in the Old City and is also sold in many stores. Explore the walled Old City of Jerusalem, and you’ll soon spot beautifully crafted ceramic street signs spread through the area.

The Armenian compound is enclosed by an inner wall within the Armenian Quarter and includes St. James, a convent, school, churches and residences. Along the walk from the Jaffa Gate past the Zion Gate and to the Jewish Quarter are many small shops displaying the beautiful hand-painted Armenian pottery which is made locally. Armenian ceramics can be seen adorning many parts of the Old City including the Dome of the Rock and neighborhood street signs.

 

Happy Chanukah My Friend

“Happy Hanukkah: Peace, success, security. Friends, fun and family. We hope the spirit of Hanukkah. Fills you with happiness and warmth. And may your season be filled with beautiful lights.”

Happy Hanukkah My Friend

Lyric:

********
Spin the dreidle light the lights
Ev’ryone stay home tonight
The story is told
The young and the old toge-ther

As twilight greets the setting sun
Light the candles one by one
Remember the past
Traditions that last Forev-er

Come let’s share the joy of Hanukkah
May our friendship grow
as the candles glow
Oh, won’t you
Come and share the joy of Hanukkah
And we’re hoping all
you’re wishing for comes true
Happy Hanukkah, my friend, from me to you!

Candle light or star above
Messages of peace and love
Their meaning is clear
We all were put here as broth-ers
So let’s begin with you and me
Let friendship shine eternally
May this holiday
enlighten the way for oth-ers

Come let’s share the joy of Hanukkah
May our friendship grow
as the candles glow
Oh won’t you
Come and share the joy of Hanukah
And we’ll celebrate as only friends can do.
Happy Hanukah my friend, from me to you
Happy Hanukkah, my friend, from me to you.

The Story of Passover

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Marketing/Media Writer, Strategist and Consultant

The Story of Passover

Passover is a holiday that celebrates the escape of the Israelites from Egypt in approximately 1225 B.C.E.  The narrative of this adventure is told in the Biblical book of Exodus.

The Israelites had moved down into Egypt as long as 400 years earlier, according to the Bible.  But some scholars suggest that the actual time span was probably closer to 200 years or less, based upon the Biblical genealogies from Joseph (who brought his own family into Egypt) to Aaron (who, with Moses, led the people out of Egypt).

Exodus

Moses leads the Children of Israel through the city gate in this medieval version of the Exodus scene
(from 14th Century Spain, the Kaufman Haggadah).

The Israelites came down to Egypt during a time when a famine was raging in the Biblical Near East.  Egypt had stockpiled food during the seven years of plenty that had preceded the famine.  Joseph, one of the younger sons of the patriarch Jacob (who was also known as Israel) had predicted the years of plenty and the years of famine.  As a result, he had a high position in the court of the Pharaoh.  The Pharaoh welcomed Joseph’s family and settled them in the delta region of Goshen, where they prospered.

For many generations, the Israelites enjoyed the protection of the Pharaohs, who valued their work as shepherds.  However, a Pharaoh eventually came to power who feared the Israelites.  According to the Book of Exodus, this Pharaoh tried to destroy the Israelite population by ordering all male Israelite infants to be killed at birth.  He also required the Israelites to work on large-scale building projects without pay and under terrible working conditions.  The Israelites saw themselves as slaves.

The book of Exodus tells us that God ordered Moses, a young Israelite man who had been raised in the palace of the Pharaoh as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt with the help of his brother Aaron. However, in order to do so, it was necessary for the Pharaoh to agree to the emigration of the Israelite population.  Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”  To which Pharaoh replied, “No.”

A battle of wills ensued between the will of the God of the Israelites and the will of the Pharaoh, who was worshipped as a deity by the Egyptians.  Ten plagues were visited upon the Egyptians, the last of which was the death of the first born of each family.  God told the Israelites to slaughter a lamb as a paschal sacrifice and put the blood of the sacrifice on the doorposts of their homes so that the Angel of Death would pass over them on the night of the tenth plague.

After this night of terror, Pharaoh said that the Israelites could leave Egypt.  Fearful that the Pharaoh would change his mind (which he subsequently did), the Israelites left as quickly as possible.  Because of this, their bread did not have time to rise.

They fled and found themselves standing at the shore of the Red Sea with the Pharaoh’s chariots close behind in pursuit.  God parted the sea for them, and they walked across on dry land.  When the chariots tried to follow, the iron wheels stuck in the soft sand, the waters closed over them, and they drowned.  Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron led the women in dancing and singing in praise to God, who had performed this miracle on their behalf.

God told the Israelites that they should celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt each year with a seven-day festival during which they should eat only unleavened bread.  Two days of this holiday were set aside as special days during which no work was to be done.  The first night of the holiday was to be special and was to include the eating of the Paschal sacrifice (of the lamb), bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, and the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Since very ancient times, Jews all over the world have assembled with family and friends on the night of the 15th of Nisan to celebrate the redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.