During the Passover seder, Jews everywhere ask – “Why is this night different from every other night.” But once one goes beyond the Four Questions, the quirkier things that make Passover in Israel different from the rest of the year, also set the Jewish State apart from the Diaspora.
One of the most obvious differences is the price of a kosher-for-Passover brisket – which plummets rather than triples in price just in time for the holiday, giving Diaspora brethren but another reason to declare ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ Another is all the special perks that food outlets aggressively market in cut-throat competition to corner consumers – including one grocery chain that declared “Buy on Passover, Pay on Yom Kippur”…
And speaking of consumers, although a full 70% of all products are quarantined behind reams of wrapping paper for the duration of the holiday, this doesn’t even dent sales volume: Statistics show that during the three weeks leading up to the seder, consumers spend (and consume, one assumes) two to three times as much on food as they do in a normal week, even without a second seder.
Passover is bound up like a Gregorian knot with the Passover presents salaried employees expect to receive on the eve of the holiday. What began as a simple holiday gesture – a bottle of wine and a box of sweets or a book, blossomed in the 1970s to cover a rocking chair, ultimately skyrocketing in the 1990s to encompass presents worth up to a thousand NIS…or more. Literally hundreds of manufacturers and importers compete at a massive “Passover Gift Exhibition” held every January – the ultimate pipe dream being that the head of the Israel Electric Company will saunter up and say “I’ll take 12,000 mountain bikes.” Or microwaves. Or gas operated barbecues.
As the holiday approaches, the Jewish Homeland is geographically situated for a visitation that most Israeli women view as “the 11th plague” that descends on the households of all modern-day Israelites rather than on the Egyptians: Passover would not be Passover if spring cleaning did not climax in a roaring chamsin that despite tightly-shut windows and shutters leaves every spic-and-span household in the House of Israel ready to receive holiday guests covered with a fine layer of yellowish dust from the desert.
If Passover is anchored in the Exodus story, while there is only one seder in Eretz-Israel, Israelis do reenact the Passover exodus twice…. once sitting down at the seder table, once in the motorized exodus getting there. In the space of two or three hours, half the population of Israel seems to be trying to transverse the three main arteries that bisect the Tel Aviv metropolitan area either on their way north or south.
Yet, undoubtedly one of the weirdest holiday sights one can find Only-in-Israel is gorillas and elephants munching on matzah in the Ramat Gan Safari…and not because the park’s caretakers couldn’t stock up on stale bread for a week; in fact, the Safari invites Israelis to donate unwanted hametz to feed the elephants prior to the holiday rather than discard it. But once the holiday kicks in, because Jewish law prohibits leavening being “seen or found” during Passover, handlers feed the residents matzah for a solid week so as not to offend religiously-observant families who flock to the zoo during Passover week.
Thank goodness, matzah is not the elephants’ main staple during Passover (eliminating any need to deal with “The Jews and the Elephant Problem“…) because prior to the holiday physicians issue stern warnings to the public-at-large via the media about the dangers inherent in “overdoing the matzah.” The problem, it seems, is not just the hazard of adding surplus kilograms just before summer swimsuit season, but the danger of blocked intestines – a relatively rare ailment that statistically registers a seasonal rise in Israeli hospitals toward the tail end of Passover week.
With all government offices, municipalities and a host of other essential services closed or at least semi-paralyzed for seven to ten days and a host of private businesses limping along on half-staff, it should not be surprising that countless other wage slaves who are not civil servants choose to knock off work for the week – including all Israeli domestics who never work during Passover week as a matter of tradition, gleefully leaving the lady of the house to slave about sweeping up endless matzah crumbs while the maids are off vacationing in Turkey or camping on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Photo Credit: photo by Tibor Jäger, courtesy of the Ramat Gan Safari
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