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Passover

March 30, 2010

Last night was ליל הסדר (lel ha’seder), the first night of פסח (Pesach, Passover). As per the usual theme of Jewish holidays, people were celebrating evading death and hardship yet again; this time, the cause for celebration was the escape from enslavement in Egypt with the help of Moses.

For the seder dinner, extended family gathers together to read the הגדה (Haggadah), which is more or less a retelling of Exodus with singing and various rituals involving food and wine along the way. After finishing the story (or about half of the story and all of the songs, in our case), everyone eats. It feels a lot like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one, only without all the decorations. Parents and other family members give money to kids, everyone’s on vacation and in a good mood, you eat a lot, and spend time with lots of people you haven’t seen in a while.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the evening revolves around the אפיקומן (afikoman). In most families, the head of the household hides some matza wrapped in a special tallit for the kids to find, and they’re rewarded with money if they manage to find it. In my husband’s family, the kids hide the afikoman and the oldest person looks for it. The adults have wine and conversation to keep them going through the lengthy evening, so it’s only fair the kids have some fun as well.

Surprisingly, not everything that’s kosher for Passover (meaning even more kosher than the usual everyday kosher) tastes funny. קניידלאך (kneydlach, the Yiddish word for matza balls) are super tasty, and dessert provided the most pleasant surprise — there was delicious dairy-free strawberry ice cream, and a dense cake made from matza flour, as regular flour is off limits. Unfortunately, all bakeries and grocery stores are kosher in Israel (except a few in Arab communities), meaning that for the duration of the week Passover is celebrated, none of them can sell leavened bread or anything else that isn’t approved. Even my usual soy milk isn’t for sale. I don’t know what the logic behind that last one is, but maybe it’s better not to ask.

In conclusion, it felt a little weird to sing לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבניה (la’shanah ha’ba’ah bi’Yerushala’im ha’bniah, “to next year in Jerusalem”) toward the end of the night when we were sitting literally ten minutes outside Jerusalem and probably could have seen the city if we looked out a window. While our geography didn’t phase anyone, that particular line did incite several political discussions around the table based on a joke that the U.S. wants to censor it. It’s awkward being American and passively pro-Obama if you live in Israel, but I’m hoping that will change soon.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann permalink
    March 31, 2010 1:41 am

    ..Meaning you will not be pro-Obama in the near future, not be living in Israel, or not feel awkward being an American?

    • March 31, 2010 12:27 pm

      Meaning I hope Obama will accomplish something meaningful in the Middle East and Israelis will appreciate him the way they appreciated Bush and Clinton.

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