Things have been a bit busy lately, which is why this post about Passover is showing up almost a month after the holiday. I actually started this post immediately after the holiday ended but it never got finished. So much has happened since the holiday that we have many things to write about, but it seems only right to post the two Passover posts first since Passover happened before the other things. I say two Passover posts because there is so much to say about Passover that I have decided to split it into two blog posts, one about the preparations for the holiday and one about the holiday itself.
Passover is a holiday that is always accompanied by stress. As soon as the sun sets on Purim, people begin to worry about the shopping, cooking, and cleaning that are involved in this one week long holiday. Despite all the stress, Passover has always been one of my favorite Jewish holidays. How can that possibly be given the cleaning and the matzah? It is all about family and good memories of seder. This year was different since we weren’t with family, but that just means we had the opportunity to make new memories and be exposed to new traditions.
Like the other holidays I have blogged about, it was very different preparing for Passover here in Israel. While in many cases it seemed like it is easier, in other ways it was a bit more challenging for me. With time and help from friends, I figured most things out. Plus, now that we did this once, it should be easier next year.
Like in the United States, the upcoming holiday is best represented by the items that the stores put on sale. For example, there is always a sale on marshmallows and charcoal around July 4th and of course everyone knows when Christmas in coming. The same thing happens in Israel, although it seemed much more subtle until Passover. At Chanukah time there was a lot of chocolate and candy near the front of the stores when you first walk in. There were also menorahs, candles, and oil ready for purchase. When we got close to Purim, candy once again made its way to the front of the store since it is often put into the small gifts people give as part of the holiday. For Passover, the front of the store was stocked with cleaning supplies and dishes. While not as yummy as the candy, these items are practical for the beginning of Passover since a major part of preparing is cleaning and switching dishes to ones that have been designated for Passover.
In terms of purchasing food, things felt much harder here, mostly because there was a lot to get used to. At home, since the special Passover items are for a specific segment of the population, grocery stores create an aisle designated for Passover foods. This makes shopping pretty easy; you just walk up and down this one aisle and put what you want/need in your cart. (Note: the refrigerator items are in a separate location but are also put together so they are all in one place.) Occasionally there are items that don’t need to be specially made so you find them in their regular location, but there is a book put out by the OU and the CRC to help you with that. I always know what symbols to look for too, which makes the shopping less and less stressful every year.
In Israel, almost everything that can be kosher for Passover is kosher for Passover. Because the general population is interested in purchasing these products, the products are where they always are, you just need to look if it says kosher for Passover on it. Not too hard right? One small quirk in the system that a new person might not know about is that where the words “Kosher L’Peseach” are written can vary on products. Most of the time it is near the normal kosher symbol, but on some foods it is near the expiration date. No big deal right? Once I knew to look near the expiration date, it made things a bit easier but I was still confused why certain products, such as the orange juice, didn’t say kosher L’pesach on them. It turns out the orange juice did say it, only it was abbreviated. I didn’t even know that was possible! How did I figure this out? I asked Anat. If I hadn’t we would have gone without orange juice! Once I got these details down, things went a lot smoother.
The additional complication with food has to do with the “cultures” of Judaism that have developed based on country of origin. Adam and I are both Ashkenazic Jews. Ashkenazic Jews come from or have ancestors from France, Germany, and other Eastern European countries. Sephardic Jews come from or have ancestors from Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and the Middle East. All Jews, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, have the same beliefs, it is just some of the practices that change. Prayer services are different and there are different customs for holidays. The most obvious difference is at Passover. According to Jewish law, Jews are not allowed to eat or own chametz, which is related to the restriction on leavened bread. The Ashkenazic Jews have additional restrictions, however. There is a category of items that cannot be eaten on Passover known as kitniyot. Some examples of foods that are considered kitniyot are corn, rice, and lentils. Sephardic Jews do eat kitniyot on Passover.
In Israel, the majority of the population is Sephardic. Many foods that are kosher for Passover contain kitniyot or kitniyot derivatives (for example corn oil). Therefore, you have to be careful when checking an item to see if it is kosher for Passover. It may be kosher for passover but it may contain kitniyot. That makes everything a little bit more challenging. This became apparent to me when I went to the grocery store the first time right after Purim. I was anxious that I wouldn’t be able to figure out whether or not food items were kosher for Passover. I was relieved to see large labels on the snack foods. I picked up a bag of popcorn and in large letters it said kosher l’pesach. I was happy to see that it would be that easy. Then I realized that it was popcorn, which while kosher for passover, I couldn’t use because it was kitniyot. Oy vey!
Thankfully we have a wonderful Rabbi back in West Hartford who leads a discussion about Passover every year. From him, we have learned that while Ashkenazic Jews are not allowed to eat kitniyot on Passover, there really isn’t an issue with kitniyot derivatives. In addition, Israeli companies label their food items with an additional phrase that indicates whether or not it is for people who eat kitniyot. Once you see this, you don’t necessarily put the item back on the shelf. Instead you read the ingredients, which isn’t easy when your Hebrew isn’t so good. There were a few items we bought that said kitniyot on them, but only had derivatives in them or didn’t have anything kitniyot in them at all (like the raisins). By the end of my Passover shopping, we had everything we needed and while there was a little bit of extra stress, it should all be easier next year. 🙂
Once the food was purchased, it was time to consider utensils, dishes, and other household goods. It is hard to have to go buy things when you know that you have everything you need sitting in a box in a storage unit. Oh well! Our landlord came buy to pick up her Passover dishes which were still stored in the apartment. She was very nice to share some with us. She said she didn’t need everything, so she was happy for us to use these items. Then, I went to the Home Stock store to purchase the few things we needed to supplement what she gave us. Most people said we should use paper and plastic the whole week but I just couldn’t given the environmental impact that has. Instead I bought cheap reuseable dishes that we will just sell when we leave.
As Passover approached, we started to do the usual cleaning of the house to get rid of any chametz that might have made its way into the various rooms in the house. Usually this is a very stressful process, and for years Adam and I have been up until 2 or 3 in the morning the night before Passover begins trying to get things cleaned. This year, I felt so lazy. I kept putting the cleaning off because I was tired or had work to do, but when we finally started cleaning, it went really quickly. It turns out that we have been doing better about keeping our house clean all year round, so instead of having to clean up so that we could then do our Passover cleaning, we could just do the Passover cleaning. The day before seder, we were done cleaning by 3 pm. I went babysitting and when I got back, we did our final check and declared our house kosher for Passover. We were so proud of ourselves for being done so early that we took advantage of being in Israel and went out for burgers at our favorite place, Burgers Bar.
Until next time…