Tag Archives: Passover

Run-up to Pesach (Passover)

Advertisement for children's activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record
Advertisement for children’s activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record

In our old apartment, it was easy to tell Pesach (Passover) was imminent. The children in the day care across the street stopped singing about Purim and started singing parts of the Passover Haggadah. Instead of “It’s Adar, increase joy,” they sang the four questions.

But in our current apartment, there are no nearby day care facilities. So the musical cues of coming holidays are few. Although the sound of two dozen three or four year olds singing at full force isn’t exactly music.Two days ago, when I walked to the grocery store, I crossed paths with a man taking his young child home. As they walked, I could hear him helping her learn one of the four questions. As I type this, several children in the parking lot below my window are practicing the questions.

Passover is coming! Seder is Friday night.

Ad by young man looking for work cleaning for Passover
“A capable young man, known in the neighborhood, is interested in cleaning houses and courtyards” Ad posted on street

We’ve been cleaning the apartment for weeks. This year, we got smart. We hired a young man from the yeshiva to help us. He’s not some kid from the neighborhood. Although Til is from Germany, he studies full time in the English program at Machon Meir with Allen. He knows what is required in the way of Pesach cleaning, and is smart enough to follow through on instructions. Although he and Allen together moved the refrigerator and the bookcases in the salon,  he was strong enough to move the stove by himself to clean behind it. Nine hours of cleaning help from someone who knows what he’s doing makes a big difference.

Now we’re just about ready. The year-round dishes have been put in one cabinet, the pots moved to a box on the balcony, and the Passover utensils are sitting on new shelf paper in freshly cleaned cabinets. The stove is so clean, it looks new, and the inside of the refrigerator shines. Of course you can’t see that; the shelves are full of fresh vegetables for the week. The three dozen eggs I need for the holiday take up a good amount of space as well. Three dozen eggs may not sound like much for this egg-intensive holiday, but I’m not making seder. And we don’t eat sweets, so I’m not baking much either.

A month ago, around Purim time, the supermarket rearranged some displays, moving the flour and other baking supplies to where the peanut butter, jams, and condiments had been. The peanut butter and other spreads that were not strictly off limits on Passover were moved to the longer shelves where the baking supplies had been. As usual, this move drove half the customers crazy as they searched for that one last kilo of flour or package of baking powder that they will use up before the holiday. Schools are off for two weeks before the holiday and parents get desperate for activities for their children. Day camps proliferate. Many of them are run by preteen girls for neighborhood children. But Yakov and Moshe, Daniel and Aliza’s sons, are lucky; they attend a sports camp held in local park.

This is also a time when grandparents are very busy. Not only do we prepare our homes for the holiday, but we are on call for child care. This year Yocheved spent two days with us. Monday afternoon we participated in making the largest matza ever made. The activity was held at First Station, so named because it was the first Jerusalem terminus for the railroad from Jaffa. It was one of the few things built during the Ottoman period to bring the province of Southern Syria into the modern age, and opened in 1892. After many years of disuse, the station area was rehabilitated and modernized. It now houses several restaurants, stores, and amusements.

Before the actual matza baking, the children completed holiday-themed crafts projects. Yocheved colored a flat piece poster board that when folded up would be a matza box. She also decorated a bag for hiding the afikomen, the piece of matza saved for dessert at the seder.

Then it was matza baking time. One of the organizers mixed the flour and water and kneaded the dough, which he then parceled out. The children rolled out the dough and then carried it to where the big matza was being assembled. To be kosher for Passover, less than 18 minutes must elapse between pouring the water into the flour and the baking to be complete. This was not going to be a kosher-for-Passover matza. The organizers kept mixing batches of matza dough as someone else carefully pressed the small pieces of dough together.

They attached the big matza to a framework that looked like wire fencing. Another piece of metal was put on top after which they measured it: 344 centimeters, big enough to set a new record.      

Using blowtorches to cook the world's largest matza ,at First Station, Jerusalem, Israel
Using blowtorches to cook the world’s largest matza

But how do you cook a matza that is more than 11 feet across? Surely there was no nearby oven big enough. They used blow torches, of course. Two men cooked one side, and then the other side.

The matza looked all right, but we didn’t stay there to taste it. I knew none of the children had washed their hands before working with the dough and Yocheved mentioned she had seen people step on the dough as it was being assembled. Since it looked like matza, we just assumed that’s what it tasted like.

The public bulletin boards are covered with holiday related notices. Most of them are  advertisements for stores or activities. But one plain black print ad caught my attention. I have translated most of it here because I have never seen a poster like this one.

Forbidden because of fear of hametz!  

Warning against using cigarettes on Passover
Warning! Cigarettes contain hametz and are not suitable for use on Passover

Rabbi Elishav, of blessed memory:

“It is forbidden to use cigarettes without clarifying that they do not contain substances that are made from hametz.”

Rabbi Karlin:

“Using cigarettes violates the prohibition against getting pleasure from hametz during Pesach”

Rabbi Sternbuch:

“Most cigarettes are completely hametz!”

The  Rabbinical Council ofAmerica:

Philip Morris uses hametz.

Don’t smoke cigarettes during Pesach.

 I guess any reason not to smoke is a good one. I just find it a little odd that these rabbis are more worried about people violating the commandment to refrain from using hametz during this one week holiday than they are about people violating the commandment to guard their health during the rest of the year. But that opinion is just a result of my own experience taking care of critically ill people who destroyed their hearts or lungs by smoking. 

The penalty for eating Hametz on Passover is considered more severe than the penalty for not taking care of your health. I have a hard time, however, appreciating that anything can be more severe than struggling for every breath you take. 

I just hope the person in our building who smokes in the hallway sees the poster and decides not to smoke over the holiday. Then we’ll be able to keep that clean scent of freshly cleaned cabinets, floors and furniture hanging around a little longer.

Pesach (Passover) 5775

Chart of order of the Pesach seder, from Arthur Sczyk's Hagadah
Chart of the order of the seder, from Arthur Sczyk’s Hagadah

There are many requirements for observing the Passover holiday, and many of them are fulfilled at the Seder table. The most important ones are eating matza and maror (bitter herbs) and teaching children about the holiday. But in all the seriousness, we should not forget that the seder is a festival meal, a meal time for celebrating. In addition to fulfilling our obligations, we had fun at Seder at Sara and Danny’s house. The children have gotten older and their participation more intricate. This year they acted out several important points of the story told in the Hagadah.

After the matza was broken for the afikomen to be eaten later, the three girls lined up at the end of the table. Sara had been given a small part in this first presentation. She asked, “Who are you?”
The girls answered, somewhat in unison, “We’re B’nai Yisrael.”

Sara then asked, “Where are you coming from?”

“We’re coming from the Land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

“Where are you going?”
“To the land G-d promised us.”

“Is there something you want to ask?”
The girls then sang the traditional Four Questions.

It’s fun to watch the children’s development as their roles change. Yael, almost finished first grade, can read now. So she joined her older sister and the grownups, and got to read several paragraphs aloud.

This year’s biggest innovation was the enactment of the Ten Plagues. It was done as a poetic recitation, in which each verse repeats everything that came before it, complete with hand motions and sound effects.

First plague: Blood–ugly faces and cries of “Iksa! Iksa!” (Disgusting! Disgusting!)

Second plague: Frogs–jumping around yelling “Qvak! Qvak!” which is how Hebrew-speaking frogs croak.

illustration of plagues 6 -10 from Yaakov Kirshen's Pesach Hagadah
Yaakov Kirschen’s illustration of plagues 6 -10 from his hagaddah

Lice and boils involved running around, scratching or swatting at the air, and yelling some variation of a gargling, coughing, croaking sound. For the eighth plague, they made satisfying crunching sounds to imitate the locusts eating everything in sight. For darkness, they ran around bumping into each other.

I wondered how they would show the tenth, most devastating, plague. Yocheved and Adina stood together, and suddenly Yocheved dropped to the ground. Adina yelled, “Akhmed!” She got down on her knees and shook Akhmed, who did not respond. She then put her head down on “his” chest and pretended to cry. Of course, the effect was ruined when a moment later, the dead Akhmed jumped to her feet to run around bumping into her sisters in darkness and then crunch as a locust, scream and shield her head from the falling hail, and so on back to yelling “Qvak! Qvak!” as a frog and “Iksa! Iksa!” at water turning to blood.

We are supposed to spill a drop of wine from our cups at the mention of each plague. Despite the plagues leading to our freedom from slavery, we cannot celebrate other people’s suffering with a full cup of wine. But I was laughing so hard I lost count. So after “Akhmed” and his sisters returned to the table, I said the ten plagues in order and dipped out ten drops of wine.


After the first day of Passover, we return to ordinary life. Except, of course, the intermediate six days of Pesach are not completely ordinary. We must still observe the Pesach food restrictions and schools are not in session. With the children off, at least half the non school-age population takes off from work. Bank HaPoalim sponsors free admission to 40 popular sites all over the country. These sites include the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Umm al Fahm Museum, the Haifa Zoo, Jerusalem Botanical Garden, and the Israel Air Force Museum in Hatzerim.

National parks are crowded; it’s hard to find an empty picnic table when you want to sit down to eat. Walking on nature trails, the most nature you see is human. Many places have special activities for children. As we walked through the Tower of David Museum on Tuesday, we saw a Crusader sword fighting with some young children, an ancient Israelite explaining to others what he used the pottery for, and a 20th century doctor waiting for patients. The Old City of Jerusalem was so full of people, the Number 1 bus ran like a shuttle taking people home. As each crowded bus pulled away from the bus stop, another bus pulled up to take on its load. We managed to board the third bus that stopped while we were waiting.

Many public places, such as hospitals and some parks, are hametz-

Sign asking people not to bring chametz into Jewish Quarter during Pesach
Sign above street leading into Jewish Quarter of Old City

free zones for the duration of the holiday. This includes the whole Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. A sign above one of the arches leading from the Zion Gate parking lot into the residential area reminds people not to eat any hametz within its confines during the holiday. However, no one checked bags to make sure visitors weren’t smuggling in hametz.

In Afula, however, things were a little different. Potential visitors were turned away from a municipal park if they had food not Kosher for Pesach with them. And who was checking to protect the park from hametz? The people who are most experienced at rummaging through purses and backpacks of strangers–the security guards. I can imagine the encounter, walking up to the entrance, handing over my purse, and being asked by the armed guard at the gate, “Any weapons? Gun? Knife? Sandwiches?”

The need to check everyone for weapons is just a part of life in Israel, and we take it seriously. Lumping a sandwich together with weapons is absurd. But such is life in Israel–the serious and the absurd together.