"Urban Pesaj" Fills Streets of Buenos Aires

The way I think about Passover, and the concept of an "open door" – one of the holiday's historic symbols – is forever changed now that I've experienced Pesaj Urbano.

An annual event organized by JDC's YOK initiative, Pesaj Urbano (Urban Passover) is a holiday street festival held that transforms the trendy and memorable Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires into a quintessential Jewish cultural experience of now. One of JDC's leading, innovative "Judaism without walls" programs around the world that challenge traditional paradigms about where people encounter or practice their religion, YOK makes Jewish culture exciting and accessible and brings it to where people are -- cafes, theaters, and their local neighborhoods.

Pesaj Urbano was far from my first encounter with these programs; I was privileged to share in JDC's now renowned Judafest street fair in Budapest's Jewish (and trendy!) 7th district some months back.

Modeled on YOK's urban holiday fairs in Argentina, Judafest, too, made quite an impression. But in Budapest this concept was somehow intuitive...a logical and less intimidating way to invite people to engage with Jewish culture without asking them to take what could be a very charged experienced of stepping into a synagogue or other community institution. Given the local history, fraught with atrocities against Jews and religious repression for all, the ability to peruse Jewish foods, hear Jewish music, and learn something in an anonymous and open environment made complete sense.

But now in Buenos Aires, I saw that offering multiple, alternative touchpoints with Jewish life and culture went beyond the community’s history (not an uncomplicated one). Urban Pesaj is about making relevant in modern times what can otherwise seem an antiquated ritual without true application in the 21st century.

For example, this year’s street fair highlighted the concept of the door that Jews around the world leave open for the Prophet Elijah. In addition to sharing the traditional rationale for why we do this, throughout the many stands were opportunities to engage with the question of what it means in today’s world – and in Jewish cultural life – to “leave the door open.”

From a booth where people of all ages walked through a number of different colored “doors” to offer an example of a modern-day plague or global challenge (e.g., hunger, poverty, illness, environmental damage) ... to a rabbi facilitating a discussion about who we are leaving the door open for today, through this creative entrypoint, JDC has once again reaffirmed for me its relevance in the modern conversation about the richness and future of Jewish community life around the world.   

Heather Morgan is a senior JDC Global Marketing and Communications professional who experienced how the streets of Buenos Aires were transformed into a Jewish haven at this year's Pesaj Urbano.

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