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Israelis Celebrate Passover Under Tight Security


Israel is observing the biblical holiday of Passover under tight security. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the holiday brings ancient traditions together with the complex realities of a modern Jewish state.

Israelis around the country gathered with family and friends for the traditional Seder meal, at the start of the weeklong Passover holiday. They sing festive songs and recount the biblical story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt nearly 3,500 years ago. Jews eat unleavened bread or "matzoh" on Passover because the Israelites left in haste and their bread did not have time to rise.

"Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments and has commanded us concerning the eating of unleavened bread."

Security for Passover is tight. The Israeli army has sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, amid fears that Palestinian militants could try to mar the holiday with attacks. It has happened before: A Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a Passover Seder five years ago killing 29 people.

Police commander Yoram Archayon says patrols have been stepped up at hotels, synagogues and crowded public places.

Archayon told Israel Radio that police are out in large numbers on the borders and in cities.

Israelis are used to tight security on the holidays.

"The fact that the police are out in full force, we get exactly what we want; we want security and we can feel they are doing their job, so we will be safe," Jerusalem resident Talia Adar told VOA.

Jerusalem's Old City will be awash with both Jewish and Christian pilgrims this week, as Passover coincides with Easter.