We were at Sachne one day last Passover. Sachne, also known as “The Park of the Three Pools,” is located near Beit Shahn in the Lower Galilee. It was a beautiful day, and the place was packed with both Jews and Arabs, religious people and non-religious. The kids had a lot of fun going in and out of the waterfalls in the park, and we spent most of the day there. We ate a picnic lunch, and for a treat we walked over to the park’s snack bar and got the kids some ice cream. Not such an earthshaking moment ordinarily, but on Passover it was. For such a thing does not occur outside of Israel. To begin with, it is difficult to find “Kosher for Passover” ice cream of any kind in most places in the States. And I have never seen “Kosher for Passover” ice cream bars –they certainly are not for sale at the concession stand of your nearest national park.
Though my kids have all outgrown it by now, at this time of year they used to enjoy a picture book called Matzah Ball: A Passover Story. The book tells the story of Aaron, who is invited by his friend’s family to join them at a Baltimore Orioles game. It turns out that the baseball game is during Passover, and so Aaron’s mom reminds him that he can’t eat any of the stadium’s junk food. Aaron complains, “It’s not easy being Jewish, and sometimes it feels downright weird.” (Aaron is rewarded for his sacrifice, though, because while his friends are off at the concession stand, he manages to snag a home run ball thanks to the resiliency of the matzah he is holding in his hands.)
In Israel it’s easy being Jewish, and it’s easy keeping kosher for Passover (though perhaps it’s more difficult for a Jew here to be humane – but that’s a topic for another column). Most of your regular grocery items that you use year-round suddenly sprout “Kosher for Passover” labels two weeks before the holiday. Even Elie’s penicillin for his ear infection was stamped “Kosher for Passover” (though I did not request such a stamp). The only complicating food factor in Israel on Passover, if you are Ashkenazi, is that there are two “Kosher for Passover” food labels: the all-encompassing “Kosher for Passover” and the “Kosher for Passover for those who eat kitniyot (legumes).” A “Kosher for Passover” buffet at a hotel or restaurant will often include rice, corn, beans and other legumes, and it’s not always easy to steer your kids or yourself away from these items. Yet now that I am in Israel, this Ashkenazi stringency against eating legumes seems quite extreme. There are just too many religious Jews here who eat kitniyot for me to think that there is anything pious in abstaining from these foods.
If anything is weird about Passover in Israel, it’s the lengths that secular Israelis go to when cleaning for Passover. The days leading up to Passover constitute a national spring-cleaning period, both for religious and less traditional Jews. A frequent radio advertisement this pre-Passover season urged women to forego Passover cleaning and vacation in Cyprus, where they would find beautiful beaches and hotels and wonderful restaurants. Yes, apparently there are many women in Israel who both clean exhaustingly for Passover and who would entertain the possibility of vacationing at a non-kosher Cypriot hotel for the holiday.
Passover in Israel feels normal because it seems like almost everyone is celebrating. I’m not exactly sure what the payoff is going to be, but it would certainly stand to reason that there are incredible psychological benefits for a Jewish kid who grows up on Israeli Passovers.
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., writes from Givat Ze’ev, a suburb of Jerusalem just over the Green Line. He and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, made aliyah in 1997 with their five children. Teddy is director of development for Meaningful, a company that works with Israeli nonprofit organizations.