Pesach Countdown 2003
March 25th -- It’s raining again, and has been for the past 5 days, on and off. After 5 years of drought, and talk about importing water from Turkey, Israel has had a wet, wet, wet winter, and the cold wet weather is holding on for dear life. Mt. Hermon is meters deep in snow, and the Jordan River, which feeds into Lake Kinneret (which has been dangerously low since last year) is bursting its banks. People from all over Israel are coming up North to see the phenomena, but I was able to put things into perspective when speaking to a guy from California who just finished the Livnot program. “They took you up to see the Jordan River, huh? Isn’t it amazing” I asked. “Uh, yeah, it’s really something” the young man replied. “So, where are you from? What do you do?” I continued. “I live in northern California” he answered “and I lead white river rafting trips.”
Suddenly, our little Jordan River seemed a bit embarrassing. Yet for those of us whose daily prayers for rain are a bit more intense than a Californianers, the Jordan is doing just fine.
Another weather perspective comes with the upcoming Pesach holiday, which is now 3 weeks away. Everyone is complaining that, due to the rain, they “can’t start Pesach”, meaning, in this part of the world, they can’t air out all the bedding, wash and put away the winter coats, open the windows, and basically use the outdoor areas next to their house to wash everything off. This is what people are used to here, and they feel that they can’t clean properly if their house if they can’t open all the windows and all the doors. I’m not sure whether they just assume that Jews who live in colder climates don’t clean for Pesach, but I think that they do!
March 28th -- Pesach is 3 weeks away, and already the stores are cutting down on their chametz stocks, and starting to clear the shelves for the Pesach items. Little by little, the shelves are stocking up with the Passover items, and the managers of the stores seem to be constantly yelling at the clerks to be careful about mixing up the “kosher for Pesach” items with the non-kosher-for Pesach items.
April 1st –at work today, a bunch of us started the yearly trade…floor traders on Wall Street could use a lesson from us. “…yes, I could use a kilo of flour. Do you have any soy sauce? I’ll need about a half a cup…does anyone need margarine?” The next morning, we regrouped, and everyone walked away with fewer of her “oversupply” and some of the co-worker’s extras.
In my house, we’re pretty well on schedule, food-wise, though it has created some interesting food combinations. Noodles with chocolate sauce comes to mind. There are some items that, no matter how close to Pesach it gets, I dare not be left without…vegetarian hot dogs, for one. They are Margalit’s lunch staple, and she’d rather go hungry than have something else. Luckily for me, Hagai, another champion picky eater, will eat fried eggs with anything, crackers, toast, or 3-day-old bread, so I don’t have to worry that the welfare authorities are going to show up on my doorstep.
April 8th – school vacation officially starts. I haven’t fully figured this out, even after 12 years of having children in the school system…Since early in the Hebrew month of Adar (pre-Purim), the kids have rarely stayed in school for a full day. First, the weeks before Purim are simply chaos as day after day is filled with trips, preparations for the Purim shpiel, decorating the school, and every other manner of confusion. Once Purim has finished, the kids and teachers just seem to switch into a pre-Pesach mode, finishing early, spending the days cleaning the school, and even, in the case of Ariella’s class, taking a few hours off to go on a class-shopping trip to the shuk (open-air market). Avishai goes into school only for his matriculation exams/study classes, and every day, when the kids come home from school and I say “what did you do today” they generally mention an “educational movie” that they’ve seen (Sixth Sense?) or a hike that they took.
However, be as it may, they are now all on vacation, and the pre-teen girls of the neighborhood are vying for the 2-8 year olds to come to their day camps.
April 12th. The Picnic. For the past 20 years, families of the Old City have had a tradition of heading up to Tsfat’s Citidel for a Shabbat HaGadol (the Shabbat before Pesach) picnic. Everyone brings their own food, and spends the afternoon there sitting under the trees (parents) or playing football and Frisbee (the kids and young-at-heart) and finishing their chametz. My kids start asking about the picnic within a few days of Purim’s end, and more than one mother has added the prayer for “good weather for the Shabbat haGadol picnic, PLEASE” to her pre-Pesach morning devotions.
April 13th. Shopping for Pesach. Definitely my worst chore…even though I always do my shopping several days before the holiday, the lines are long, the aisles overcrowded, and tempers short. In addition to trying to remember what I need for Pesach, my pesach shopping is made more difficult by the “kitnyiot” issue – tradition of Ashkanazi Jews not to eat legumes or pulses (or any products thereof) during Pesach. In America, where the majority of the Jewish community is Ashkanazic, all Kosher-For-Passover products are kitnyiot-free, but here in Israel, where the Sepharadim happily eat kitnyiot, Ashkanazi Jews who wish to keep their traditions must check each and every product for, not only the Kosher-For-Pesach label, but for a second “kitnyiot-free” label. (Since soy oil, which is the mainstay of many products, is a by-product of the soy plant, this is complicated). So my shopping takes twice the amount of time that it would otherwise.
April 14th. Usually, during the last few days before Pesach, we take all of our chametz food and dishes out on the porch, and eat there for a few days, but this year, thundershowers are forcast, so while the kitchen is ready for pesach, and, in fact, I am already cooking there, our living room is littered with corn flake crumbs and pieces of pita. The dry dog food is also chametz-dik, and our daushaund has a bad habit of taking a few pieces of dog food into whichever room she’s going to sleep in during the night…I guess that it gives her a feeling of security. The end result, however, is that we still have a lot of cleaning and checking to do…I commiserate with young mothers whose children still walk around the house with cookies and crackers, though they all think that I’m a little nutty when I admit that it’s our dog’s wanderings which cause us extra work.
April 15th. Almost ready. We will be hosting some friends who recently divorced…they wanted to be in a situation where they could attend the seder together, in order to minimize the possible discomfort of their 4 daughters who would otherwise have to choose to be with either their mother or their father for the Seder. Both parents are friends of ours, and their daughters’ ages coincide with our 4 younger kids, who also get along well.
My menu-planning is made more complicated by the fact that the father of this family, as well as the family which will be coming for lunch on the Yom Tov (holiday – Thursday) are vegetarians, so the pesach standard of chicken doesn’t help me this year. I have been pouring through my cookbooks, looking for vegetarian kugels and filling salads. There’s always matza to fall back on.
The variety of traditions within the Jewish world is never clearer than during Pesach. Aside from the issue of kitnyiot, many Ashkanazi (mostly Hassidic) Jews eat “non-Gebroit” food, which means that neither matza nor matza products are mixed with any other food. No kanidilich, no matza brei, not even matza and butter! In addition, although I wrote that Sephardi Jews do eat kitnyiot, I have recently learned that not all Sephardi Jews do so…evidently, those from Northern Morocco DO eat kitnyiot, while those from Southern Morocco don’t (or the other way around), and different Sepharadi Jews follow their rabbis who do or don’t, no matter where they come from. Some Jews will eat no processed food during pesach…this includes dairy products…while others won’t eat any food processed DURING Pesach, meaning that they buy all of their dairy products before Pesach, and make them last throughout the entire 7-day holiday (8 days outside of Israel, except in a year like this, when Shabbat comes at the end, which makes the holiday a 10-dayer). Some Jews will only eat fruits and vegetables which can be peeled, and they peel all their fruits and vegetables before eating them (no tomatos). Some Jews boil any sugar, salt, tea or coffee BEFORE pesach, and only use the concentrates during Pesach…the explanation, which I heard once, is too complicated to even THINK about writing here!
So, with all this in mind…have a happy, healthy, and wonderful Pesach!