Skip to main content

Israeli Backpackers Celebrate Passover in Thailand

Young Israelis, just out of the army, routinely leave Israel for the Far East to “clear the head,” writes Ben Caspit, but gather for a massive Passover ceremony across Thailand, Nepal or India.
Israeli tourists sit with the owner of a Kashmir houseboat (R) in Srinagar August 19, August 2004. Kashmir, once a tourist haven but now the centre of a bloody Islamic insurgency, seems like a most unlikely destination for Israelis who are themselves battling Palestinian Islamic militants at home. REUTERS/Danish Ismail  FK/SH - RTR8W4T

The thousands of tourists wandering around every evening on the famous Chaweng Boulevard on the Thai Island of Koh Samui were evidently puzzled at the goings-on in a large three-story office building located at the center of the crowded boulevard. In between the stalls of jeans and T-shirts, the restaurants, the bars, the massage dens and the thousands of street peddlers, there stands the center of the Chabad movement, the likes of which are scattered by the hundreds throughout the world. Since the early evening hours, hundreds of people of all ages, most of them clad in white shirts and wearing a curious piece of cloth on their head, were flocking into the building.

That piece of cloth is a skullcap, called a Kippa, traditionally adorning the heads of Orthodox Jews, and the event they were about to attend was the Passover Seder, the Passover being the most formative of Jewish holidays — the symbol of the Israelites deliverance from slavery to freedom and of the exodus from Egypt and return to the Promised Land. The Passover Seder was celebrated that night in Koh Samui with great pomp and ceremony amid the sweaty, noisy, colorful and enchanting Thai medley that attracts millions of tourists each year to this magnificent land of many islands. The majority of the Israelis who attended the Passover Seder in Koh Samui are not observant Jews; nevertheless, they did not want to miss the event that night, which for every Israeli represents the values of family, unity and freedom.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 for annual access.