Ask a Jew when the highest stress time on the Jewish calendar is, and the answer undoubtedly will be Passover . Add to the spring frenzy of house-cleaning and changing kitchenware, grocery orders, and extra preparations, and throw in the unusual wrench of a rare U.S. Presidential visit to Jerusalem in the days before the chag (holiday), and you have a recipe for city-wide High Anxiety of Olympic proportions. These preparations are replicated by the observant all over the world, but somehow the concentration seems heightened in Jerusalem.
But, behind the high profile scenes, life for the residents of Jerusalem went on, despite traffic snarls, people unable to reach their homes even sometimes by foot, grocers, purveyors and caterers unable to deliver their orders to their customers in the days so close to the start of the holiday and other aggravations that were a backdrop to the holiday lead-in. Actually, I decided to be totally zen with the visit, thinking of it as a snow day, Jerusalem style: one day off for the rumor of snow, one day for the 3 inch accumulation, and one day off for potential icy streets, resulting in a 3 day holiday when no one is expected to show up for anything, but without the freezing temperatures. So, thank you President Obama for the mini-holiday.
While art history is rife with artists who relay the tale of the Exodus from Egypt in their artwork, such as the above painting by the Scottish artist, David Roberts (1796-1864), it is at the individual family’s dinner table that the story is retold from generation to generation in accordance with the Biblical commandment,
And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. (Exodus 13:8).
Art associated with the Passover holiday includes beautifully illustrated haggadot, which I discussed last year at this time here. Of course the Seder plate, wine cups and special ritual objects all contribute to the specialness of the holiday meal, and there are examples from all over the world that speak to the beauty and significance of this family event, such as this Pre-Expulsion seder plate from Spain from the Israel Musuem collections.
The rites of spring as Passover (or Pesach) approaches take a decidedly local slant. There are many rituals worth noting in the approach to the holiday, which fellow blogger Judy Lash Balint notes here. I like to see and absorb the changes in the city on a street level.
Long before the holiday arrives, the stores organize themselves for cleaning out leavening. Makolot (groceries), such as in my neighborhood, may prepare by leaving the still permitted Shabbat challah loaves available for purchase, but out on the street, rather than on the newly cleaned shelves.
Shoppers anticipate the last shopping for leavened products before the holiday, such as the popular yeast cake snacks in every shape and flavor.
Ever a harbinger of spring, Machaneh Yehudah’s produce takes a lurch towards the new season’s offerings. Fresh almonds still in their soft outer green coating, strawberries by the heaps, and, of course, braids of fresh garlic, all compete for one’s attention.
The greens alone beg to be gathered up and given their due as they make their brief seasonal appearance, fresh peas in the pod and new grape leaves beckoning.
And the shopping lists only seem to continue to grow as everything, but everything, must be replaced by new products that are approved for the one week holiday.
While our minds are distracted with all that must be done, we can be aware peripherally that the city is undergoing its own transition, shedding the greyer skies of winter to reveal the fresher, airier light of a Jerusalem spring revealed from within.
Pesach celebrates spring in all its forms. To renewal, to life.