It’s been a busy month here. Pesach (Passover) was almost two weeks ago now. There was a lot of excitement leading up to it. On the lampposts and street side billboards notices began to appear, the homemade kind with the tear off phone number at the bottom. People were advertising their services as housecleaners for Pesach. I was so tempted. Either to rip off one of the phone numbers or to put up my own up to make a few extra shekels, any way I figured I would benefit. But then I realized this was so not about me moreover, I didn’t know how to properly clean for Pesach. Nor did I care if my apartment was dirty really. Granted it’s a special kind of cleaning but it couldn’t hurt, right?
Getting ready for Pesach is a pretty detailed here. I suppose in a Jewish community anywhere it’s the same but the preparations are quite visible here. Getting back to the cleaning, Torah says that there should be no chametz in the house. Chametz is any food may of grain and water that is allowed to ferment or to leaven. So people clean and get it out of the house.
On the Friday morning before Pesach, I woke up to a burning smell. Quite a strong smell, which seemed so odd and out of place here. I thought perhaps a house was on fire until I remembered that my friend told me that there a very few house fires here because the houses and apartment buildings are made from stone and concrete. When I finally went out to the flower shop at the end of my street I found the source of the smell. The yeshiva on the corner was having a bonfire on the sidewalk. Everyone in the neighborhood was bringing their chametz and other various, and not to mention curious, items to pile on the heap. All day long the burning went on and sometimes it was accompanied with singing. So needless to say Rehov Ramban was pretty lively.
On the way home from the florist I stopped in our local little food market. As I walked in a group of young people were standing outside asking for food donations items like rice, canned goods, or baby food so that less fortunate families could enjoy a Pesach Seder meal. As I put the extra bag of groceries which I had bought for the collection I remembered the Seder’s that people had invited me to past few years. How wonderful and joyous they were and how blessed I was to be invited.
I walked down the aisles looking to pick up some last minute items because Shabbat was about to begin and when that happens all of the stores and businesses are closed for 24 hours. But when I went in, huge areas of shelves had white plastic taped over them. Oy, not kosher for Passover! I have to say, there were slim pickin’s but really, none of us starved. Thankfully Bamba was made kosher for Passover. Bamba, although not high up there on my snack food list, is a peanut butter flavored puffed corn item. Bamba was especially marked kosher so all of the little children could be happy and keep up their Bamba addiction.
As Shabbat came to an end and the sun was setting, Pesach began. The full moon layered Jerusalem with a gentle light. It illumined the streets and stone walkways. Little girls were dressed in their finest and men and women so too, dressed in their most excellent attire, were on their way to family and friend’s Seders.
I was invited to a Seder with friends from the States. It was an enjoyable evening with friends. Good food was abundant and lots of ritual, which I love. We lit candles and read from the Haggadah. Jews are commanded to tell their children about the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom. The Haggadah tells the story. We remembered the plagues, cleansed our hands, and sang.
The matriarch of the family retired for the night. I went over to say good night and thank her for having me in her home. Her memory is dim but not her purpose or her kindness. When I held her hand and said good night she said to me, “oh, you’re the new girl”. I softly said, “yes, I’m the new girl.” Then she told me that “God is good.” Indeed.
Holidays are a unique time for us. Whether it is a Jewish holiday, or a Christian holiday, or even a Muslim holy day, it brings people together and binds them with shared memories that are not created intentionally but are created through the interaction with others and in the sharing of life’s crags and valleys.
It is tradition that the Seder ends with the words, ‘next year in Jerusalem’. I don’t know where I’ll be next year but this Seder, in Jerusalem, will always remain in my heart.
L’shana ha’ba-ah b’Yerushalayim