After our trip to the lake in Beitzayit, Tami and I had some lunch in a nice little Italian restaurant near the music hall Gerard-Bachar. We arrived after the rush of eaters, and before the evening diners, and so it was easy going. There was some excellent music being played on some music playing device in the restaurant. Blues. Really nice.
As we waited for our food, I was thinking that soon this restaurant and all the others would be filled to the brim till the holiday. Most of the Jerusalemites were a little slow to get into the swing of Passover cleaning this year, because of the hamsin that was blowing dust into our town. What's the point of polishing every square inch of your home with a tooth brush, if you can't open the windows to air it out? Or if, when you do open a window for an hour, just to have a bit of fresh air, there's a film of brown dust on everything. This happens from time to time, but it's not going to happen while you're doing the spring cleaning.
And the spring cleaning is taken seriously. Not only is the house turned upside down, and everything within it searched and analyzed and cleaned, but all the dishes, pots and pans, and silverware, are exchanged for the Passover vessels, which are usually the best, the most beautiful, and the most special among the household possessions. True, these vessels are only used for a week. But they are the best. At the end of the Passover, these vessels are duly cleaned, and returned to locked cabinets where they wait for the celebration of next year. After the exchange to Passover vessels, one begins cooking the Passover foods. If you're going to have the guests at your house, this is usually a stunning project in which so many dishes are prepared that one can't help but wonder what sort of assembly will have to be present here to devour all of this food. There are many different dishes, including ritual foods, soup, and appetizers. Boxes of food are brought from the supermarket, hauled in from the shuk, and bought in certain specialty stores. Almost all of the food is home made, prepared from the basic ingredients. The kitchen has to be absolutely kosher for Passover, which means no food that contains yeast… no food that was not prepared specially for Passover may be in the kitchen. This creates a sort of no-man zone, from the start of the preparations till the start of the holiday. The children are asked to eat in one of their rooms. But it is a complicated business, with much concern to keep those clean parts of the house absolutely clean. And so, while this is going on, it is common to eat out. Especially, if you have children. You take them out to eat, so they won't get in the way of those preparing for the holiday. They are excited by the change in the air, the knowledge that the great holiday is approaching…. And of course, the fun of eating out.
I remember when I had little children at home, I used to take the kids out in the evening for dinner, and would see a lot of other lone fathers with kids… whose wives had told them to just get the kids out of their hair. They would find something to eat. Not to worry. You see, before Passover, you're allowed to eat anything that's kosher for Passover, except for the Matza, the unleavened bread of Passover. That should be a new and refreshing experience. So from the holiday of Purim until the holiday of Passover, we refrain from eating Matza. And then we enjoy it. Not everyone enjoys it, actually. Some people groan about it. But almost everyone eats it. Just this morning, I heard of a non Jewish prisoner in jail, who appealed to the supreme court that his constitutional human right were being violated by his being forced to eat Matza on Passover even though his religion did not demand such behavior from him. The court sympathized, but decided that if he lives in Israel, it's just one more thing you have to suffer.
Now the hamsin is over. All of the city is in the near hysterical process of preparing for the great event; this celebration of freedom. For that is what this holiday is about. You might feel a little smothered by the intense family exposure. You might feel as if your mother in law is planning your demise by force feeding you too much and too many. You might prefer to sit on a chair without a pillow. But these are all part and parcel of our tradition, and it is all about to happen.