Back in 2007, I was sitting around the dinner table with my parents when I told them I planned on making aliyah (immigrating) to Israel that summer. I didn’t know how they would react. After a few seconds of silence they replied, “Fine, as long as you come back for Pesach every year. Can you pass the salt, please?”
Two things crossed my mind at that moment: 1) That they took the news of my impending move around the world so well and 2) that I would be fine with coming back for Pesach every year. At the time, the irony of this latter thought was lost on me. Pesach is one of the holidays where Jews are specifically supposed to go to Jerusalem, and not away from it. At the time my only thoughts were that I wouldn’t want to spend Pesach anywhere else than with my family.
This year will be my first time spending Pesach in Israel without family. The decision to stay, rather than returning to Providence where I have spent almost every Pesach of my life, was a bittersweet one to make. A lot of it has to do with the fact that my brother will be getting married in August. Besides for responsibilities that bind me to Israel, it’s not realistic for me to jet-set back and forth around the world for a vacation every few months. I need to treat Israel as my home, and not a base of operations.
So now comes the brand new experience of preparing for Pesach in Israel. That means doing my own Pesach shopping, doing a thorough cleaning of my apartment (with my roommates’ assistance, thank goodness), and maybe even buying new pots and pans for use over Pesach. And it doesn’t end there. There are aspects to Pesach which can actually, believe it or not, be more complicated in Israel.
In addition to the primary restriction of eating leavened products on Pesach, observant Jews of Ashkenazi descent do not eat kitniyot (legumes) on Pesach. Last year in Providence I had the fortune of hearing Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Congregation Beth Sholom speak about why Ashkenazi Jews should still follow this custom. Buying non-kitniyot products may be straightforward when doing Pesach shopping overseas. In Israel, where a large percentage of the population is not Ashkenazi and therefore eats kitniyot on Pesach, it’s a whole different story.
In Israel, we have not one but two special supermarket sections for Pesach – food that contains kitniyot, and food that does not contain kitniyot. Eating out in restaurants will also not be a problem in Israel, as many become kosher for Pesach. Ashkenazi Jews must be careful to only eat in the non-kitniyot restaurants. The bottom line is that I’ll have to be more careful than usual when doing my Pesach food shopping.
Another major difference is that in Israel, only one day of the holiday is celebrated at the beginning and end of the holiday week, rather than two. That means only one Pesach Seder (the traditional Passover meal held on the first night). The Pesach Seder is a personal highlight for me among the many annual Jewish traditions. I’ll miss having a second Seder, but then again I’ve never been the person slaving over a hot stove preparing this elaborate meal which can go until the wee hours of the morning.
Perhaps I’m making it sound like Pesach in Israel is more complicated and less meaningful than it is elsewhere. That’s not the case at all. It’s two weeks before the start of the holiday as I write this, and I can feel Pesach in the air! In addition to making preparations for the holiday itself, people are making plans for what to do around Israel during Pesach’s Intermediate Days. Many people get off from work for all of Pesach, and use that time to enjoy all that the country has to offer as the seasonal beauty and warmth of spring first becomes apparent. A few hours before Pesach, massive bonfires will be lit so that everyone can burn whatever remains of their leavened products. The entire country is preparing for a holiday that, as I said above, is traditionally supposed to be celebrated in Jerusalem. To fulfill that age-old tradition this year, I don’t have to go anywhere.
DANIEL STIEGLITZ (email@example.com), a Providence native, made aliyah in 2007. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Bar Ilan University and lives and works in Jerusalem. His short story “Haven” was recently published in FictionMagazines.com’s online magazine, eFiction.