Pesach preparations start weeks in advance in Jewish stateby judy lash balint, jns.org
|Follow j. on||and|
jerusalem | Not every Israeli observes Passover, but every Israeli knows Passover is coming.
Preparations for the holiday are impossible to ignore and encroach on almost every facet of life in the weeks leading up to the first seder.
Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reveals that 88 percent of Israelis will take part in a seder and 47 percent will eat only kosher-for-Passover items during the weeklong holiday.
Street scenes in Israel change every day before Passover according to what’s halachically necessary. Several days before the seder, young men wielding blow torches preside over huge vats of boiling water stationed every few blocks on the street and in the courtyard of every mikveh. The lines to dunk metal utensils start to grow every day, and at the last minute before the seder, blow torches are at the ready to cleanse every last gram of hametz (leavened foods) from oven racks and stove tops lugged through the streets by kids or overwrought mothers.
Prominent newspaper ads from Israel’s Energy Ministry feature dire warnings about the dangers inherent in cleaning gas burners. The text of the ads advises on the minutiae of taking apart the metal covers to get at that last bit of hametz.
No alarm clock is needed in the pre-Passover period — clanging garbage trucks do the trick as they roll through the neighborhood every morning during the two weeks before Passover to accommodate all the refuse from the furious cleaning going on.
Two days before the seder, there’s the annual pickup of oversized items and appliances. Piles of antiquated computer monitors and old toaster ovens stand forlornly next to the garbage bins.
The day before Passover, families seek out empty lots to burn the remainder of their hametz gleaned from the previous night’s meticulous search. The city is dotted with sputtering fires despite ads posted by the Jerusalem municipality announcing the location of official hametz burning bins and banning fires in any other areas.
Observant Jews mark the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot by carrying out some of the laws of mourning — one of which is the prohibition against cutting hair. As a result, barber and beauty shops are jammed with customers before Passover.
Mailboxes overflow with appeals from a myriad of organizations helping the poor. Newspapers are replete with articles about altruistic Israelis who volunteer by the hundreds in the weeks before the holiday to collect, package and distribute Passover supplies to the needy.
In Jerusalem alone, more than 40 restaurants close a few days before Passover. They clean out their kitchens, revamp their menus and reopen with rabbinic supervision for the holiday to serve kosher-for-Passover meals to tourists as well as the hordes that are tired of cooking after the seder.
Since most of the country is on vacation for the entire week of Passover, all kinds of entertainment and trips are offered, including the annual Boombamela beach festival, kid’s activities at the Bloomfield Science Museum, concerts in Hebron, explorations at the City of David, solidarity excursions to the Shomron and music festivals at the Dead Sea. The popular Hebrew Bananagram game has even invented a special Passover version with points for words in the haggadah.
The Passover theme of freedom and exodus in Israel even extends to criminals. According to Israel Radio, some 700 prisoners will get a furlough to spend the holiday with family.
The Ministry of Agriculture reports that 1,100 tons of carp, 80 tons of St. Peters fish and 300 tons of mullet will be sold this Passover season to satisfy the tastes of gefilte fish lovers, as well as the Moroccan-style chraime (a Sephardic fish and vegetable casserole) eaters.
At the entrance to many large supermarkets, teenagers hand out flyers listing suggested items generous shoppers may purchase to be placed in bins for distribution to needy families.
Israel’s chief rabbis sell the nation’s hametz to Hussein Jabar, a Muslim Arab resident of Abu Ghosh. Estimated worth: $150 billion secured by a down payment of approximately $27,000. Jabar took over the task some 16 years ago, after the previous buyer, also from Abu Ghosh, was fired when it was discovered his maternal grandmother was Jewish.
At the Kotel, workers perform the twice-yearly ritual (pre-Passover and pre-Rosh Hashanah) of removing thousands of personal notes stuffed into the crevices of the wall, prior to burying them on the Mount of Olives.
Finally, the end of Passover is marked by the festive Maimouna, a traditional holiday celebrated by North African Jews immediately following Passover.
In recent years, Maimouna has become a national day marked by music, eating sweets and pastries, and political glad-handing before everyone heads back to work until the fast-approaching season of Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 7, followed by Memorial Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.