Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Passover


The Postcard from Israel was originally written on 9 April 1999

Passover in Israel is an incredible experience for someone used to living in America. Come early spring, if you walk into most American supermarkets, you may see a small display stand with matzah, Concord grape wine, jars of gefilte fish (a kind of fish patty), boxes of matzah ball mix, and a few other items.

In Israel, supermarket employees work sometimes
around the clock to prepare the store for Passover. They wrap huge sheets of heavy weight plastic across shelves containing all food considered chametz (not kosher for Passover; basically this means foods made with wheat flour, yeast, baking soda or other leavening agents, plus a wide variety of other ingredients, such as corn syrup. It's very complicated to explain, but trust me: the list goes on and on of foods that many Jews do not eat during the week of Passover). In some cases, the whole aisle is blocked off. Outside of those areas, every item in the store has a special seal on it (called a hecksher) stating that the product is kosher for Passover of the current year.

Something I just learned this year: in Israel, it is illegal to sell chametz during Passover.

Driving home from my in-laws' house after the seder on the first night of Passover, we passed many homes still brightly lit, the families still gathered around the dining room table. As we tucked the girls into bed, we could hear our neighbors singing some of the traditional holiday songs. It was a magical moment.

Now that Passover is over, the supermarkets have taken down the heavy plastic covers. Stores were jammed with shoppers on the day after Passover ended: everyone needed to restock their kitchens with all of the chametz items (flour, bread, crackers, cookies, etc.) they had cleaned out in preparation for the holiday. At the supermarket where my husband is an assistant manager, they sold 2,000 kilos on that one day! (one kilo is about 2.2 pounds - flour and sugar are sold in one kilo packages).

As with the other holidays here, the children's TV station broadcast special programs during the school vacation. The content focused on the history and customs of the holiday. And, as usual, there were the many public displays, announcements, sales, etc. all related to Passover. It is a unique and wonderful feeling to live in a place where the holidays I celebrate are the subject of so much communal attention.

(c) Amy Samin

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