Being Ashkenazi in Israel over Passover is similar to getting one of those “all you can drink” bracelets at the bar when you’re on medication with a bad reaction to alcohol. Most of the restaurants I frequent throughout the year proclaim boldly that they are “Kosher l’Pesach!!” but, as an Anglo Ashkenazi, when I tried to get a salad at the mall, it turned into a mini-documentary.
“Hi! Do you speak English?”
I sighed. When the barista is telling you in Hebrew he speaks English, it’s a bad sign.
“Do you have anything without kitniyot?”
“Mah? Kitniyot?! What’s that?”
“Well, I’m Ashkenazi…”
He eyed me up and down doubtfully. I soldiered on.
“… so, I can’t eat a lot of the things that you normally put in your salads,” I explained, trying to sound patient and not annoyed.
He didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I asked for the English menu, and after perusing the few choices left to me, I finally settled for an Israeli salad. When I asked for an ice tea to go with it, the barista told me they didn’t have any tea. I debated whether to ask why tea wouldn’t be kosher for Passover, but I was already too tired from the salad adventure to exhibit any further curiosity.
As per usual, I had to give my name, rank and serial number to collect my meal, but since I was only getting cucumbers and tomatoes, I was proud to give it for once. The barista then displayed some of that standard Israeli honesty and told me my name was weird. While I have certainly heard that before under different circumstances, I found it pretty amusing on this occasion since I’d only said my name, and hadn’t even spelled it out. The friend I was eating with told the barista he was rude for calling my name weird, and the barista (looking pretty honestly surprised) questioned why it would be rude to state the obvious.
“He’s got a point,” I said jokingly. “And, anyway, why should we assume that weird means bad?! Let’s face it, the least weird thing about me is probably my name…”
After I had eaten as much chopped cucumber and tomato as I could stomach, we went back to the office, and, still hungry, I poked around hopefully at the cookies in the break room, but even they were all marked “for those who eat kitniyot.” Another co-worker watched me check all the labels, and told me that I didn’t appreciate the true meaning of the holiday, and then wandered off to snack on some incredibly fluffy looking Pesach rolls.
For the first time, it finally dawned on me the lack of empathy that people with food allergies must deal with on a consistent basis. I had once worked in an office building with a woman so sensitive to nuts that we weren’t allowed to bring anything nut-based onto the same floor where her office was located, under threat of losing our jobs. Everyone had cooperated, since who wants to be the one who has to admit to killing a co-worker through illicit PB&J sandwiches, but having to go up a floor to get your lunch if you opted for a fluffernutter that day was a hassle, and more than once I wondered if perhaps my hyperallergenic colleague could wear a hazmat suit during lunch time so we could get to enjoy nut freedom.
In Israel, requests to accommodate deviations from mainstream behavior are less tolerated, even in the face of potentially serious health issues. We sent our son to daycare at 3 months old, and one day, soon thereafter, the staff fed him Bamba, an Israeli snack made with peanut butter that looks temptingly (to my continual disappointment) like Cheetos.
“What if he were allergic!” we admonished when we saw him sucking on the last remaining peanutty puff.
“Well, then he wouldn’t be playing like that,” the daycare worker replied stoically. No one believes in survival of the fittest like an Israeli daycare worker.
All in all, Israel is the best place for a Jew on Passover, despite the food restrictions (and merciless teasing) that we poor Ashkenazim face. The majority of even my most secular friends and neighbors are giving chametz a pass, even as they poke fun at me genially about being religious. I apologize to anyone who’s allergic to my nutty kitniyot-phobic behavior, and I promise that within a few days, I’ll be back to normal. Well, normal for me, anyway, which is pretty weird. I mean, everything’s relative.