What an enjoyable Purim that was! On to the next chag, Nefesh b'Nefesh asked for reflections on the Chagim to be published in the Young Israel's Magazine. Here's my contribution:
I have a short anecdote from Erev Pesach of last year. I hadn't yet made Aliyah but was well along in the preparations, and was in Israel for the Chag.
Erev Pesach last year was extra special, as it happened to fall, of course, on the same day as the once-in-every-twenty-eight-years Birkat HaChamah. After Shacharit at a Beit Knesset in Katamon, where I was staying, we went outside and actually had to walk a couple of blocks to see the sun rising. Then I walked to the Old City and went up to the Har HaBayit (having properly prepared early that morning) along with thousands of other people. The leader of our group said Birkat HaChamah and explained why the Har HaBayit is a particularly significant place to do so, as the Mishna in Sukkah describes how they used to stand there and recite the formula "Our fathers stood in this place and worshiped the sun, but we turn with our eyes to God."
I then walked back to Katamon. In one of the parks I passed on the way, there were perhaps a dozen small fires going (in the barbecue pits) with people standing around them burning their chametz. As I walked by, a car pulled up and a young family got out- father holding the hand of a boy of about three or four, mother holding a baby girl. They were clearly not religious (in the sense we usually think of the term)- no kippot, etc.- but the little boy had a small bag in his hand with the chametz they'd collected the night before. As they crossed the street to the park to join in one of the fires, the father began asking the boy, in Hebrew, what they were doing; the boy answered about the requirement to eliminate chametz for Pesach as the father explained further.
After seeing a scene like that, it would have been hard for Pesach itself to have lived up to the day before. But, of course, it did. Chagim in Israel can be like that. I'm very much looking forward to my first Pesach as an Oleh.