Yesterday was Shabbat and today is day one of Pesach, so it’s been a quiet few days here in Jerusalem. Actually it hasn’t been completely quiet. There seems to be some sort of soccer game going on in the street below our apartment. And these past few weeks our downstairs neighbors decided to renovate their apartment right when we were getting off from school. The days have been filled intermittently with drilling and banging, which is expected to continue through chol hamoed. How considerate of them. Fortunately the noise has stopped over the holidays.
It’s been fun to watch the city whip into another frenzy as the holiday came closer. As soon as Purim ended women began to talk incessantly of getting rid of chametz and of the overwhelming task of cleaning their houses of all chametz. When we visited Haifa at the end of March and Rechovot last weekend all of our hosts were frantically ridding their pantries of chametz products, which resulted in our being served carbs a plenty.
This last week was of course the busiest time. Outside of the supermarket near me, some dudes set up a toivel station so people could ritually cleanse their Passover dishes. By Friday there was a station set up for burning chametz, and as I walked in the city I could smell chametz burning everywhere. Stores stocked up on kosher for Passover products. By Friday morning the supermarket near me covered the aisles or section of aisles that were chametz based products with white plastic. The place was packed with people trying to fit in last minute shopping. (It’s always a bit more frantic here than the usual Erev Shabbat or Erev Chag because people had to have enough food for two days straight.)
The coffee shop down the street was generous enough to stay open until noon, and you could see that they were just trying to get rid of as many baked goods as they could. I walked by their shop several times that week and noticed the supplies of cakes and cookies slowly diminishing. I also noticed an especially sizeable group at the pizza joint. I guess they were trying to get their fix before the week of abstenance.
This year presented an especially complicated preparation because Passover falls on Saturday night. Not only does this mean that you have to start the seder later, but you also have to do all of your Passover cleaning and cooking before Shabbat. Thursday you’re supposed to clean and perform the bdikat chametz ritual (with the candle, feather and spoon). Friday you’re supposed to burn the chametz.
Friday night you’re supposed to cook from your Passover dishes, eat from plastic plates, but eat lechem mishna (two loaves of bread). Some people eat the bread on the porch and then sweep up the crumbs and flush them down the toilet. Other people eat some form of matzah ashira (like egg matzah). The last bit of chametz you can eat is Saturday at 9:54 am (?) This also presents complications for people that want to hold a kiddish. At one shul they held services earlier and had kiddish before Torah service. You can read all about it at the OU Passover 2008 Web site and at another site called kashrut.com.
We spent our seder at my boss’ house in Bakaa and had a very good time. Most of the seder was in Hebrew, which provided an opportunity to practice, although there were a few parts where I was just lost. I brought along a haggadah called ‘Halaila Hazeh’ a very user-friendly Hebrew haggadah written by Mishal Zion, who studies at Pardes, and his father Noam Zion. It’s full of poems and mini-commentaries, which I look forward to using in future gatherings.
We also bought two other haggadot this year–one put out by the Pressburger yeshiva and the other, a Torat Chaim, a complication of different commentaries. It was hard not to give in to the temptation since the bookseller kept coming to Pardes with dozens of different volumes.
I didn’t realize that haggadot were such popular reading material here. Not only can you get many user-friendly, family versions in English or Hebrew with pictures and commentary, but it seems like every well-known commentator or student who compiled a commentator’s teachings has a haggadah out. Once I get good enough in Hebrew, I’ll be able to read through the commentaries a lot easier, but for now it’s a bit more of a struggle.
We started the seder around 8:30 pm, sat down to dinner at 11:30 pm and went until 1:30 am. It was definitely way past my bedtime, but the Pardes Rosh Yeshiva supposedly went all night at his seder! Usually the seders at my parent’s house just can’t go on that long because people are often driving from NYC and almost everyone has to go to work the next day. If we start having our own seders, we might go a bit later than my family but still end earlier than Rav Landes!
I love celebrating Pesach in Israel and in Jerusalem, but definitely missed my family’s get together this year–the usual bantering, my dad’s attempts to intersperse commentary whilst my grandmother urges us on to the meal, the silly singing at the end of the meal–if everyone’s awake at that point. I especially missed hanging out with my nephew this year, who ate matzah for the first time in his life. I can’t wait to hear about how he liked the seder. Supposedly he really likes music and when people sing–he’s definitely my sister’s child.
The food that my family makes is also so amazing. I’m so desperate for some chicken matzah ball soup (the hard matzah balls not the fluffy ones!) that I’ve decided to make my own tomorrow. Not the powdered mix, but the real deal where you soak the chicken in a pot for hours. Maybe I’ll skip the matzah balls this year.
It’s only another 6 weeks until I see the famiy. We’re celebrating my Mom’s 60th wedding anniversary by renting a house on the beach in Italy. I can’t complain 🙂 Then I’ll be seeing them in July/August when we’re back to pack everything up and kiss our goodbyes.
I’ll probably write more about our latest goings on–visiting Rechovot, visiting the North, aliyah stuff–in a day or so. Lots to write about!
Mom, if you’re reading this, I want to know if I can get your soup recipe!