How Obama Divided Jerusalem in 2013

Jerusalem is a divided city this week–divided into those professionals, politicos, celebs and security people who are preparing for the Obama visit and the rest of us who are preparing for Passover.


Kashering utensils on a Jerusalem street
Kashering utensils on a Jerusalem street


It’s unlikely that the two sides will mix much, and with impending street closures and the presence of hundreds of visiting reporters most of us locals are hunkering down and getting on with our pre-Pesach business and grumbling about the timing of the presidential visit.

Last year I posted 20 Signs of Pesach in Israel on the Times of Israel to give those outside the country an idea of what it feels like when an entire nation cleans itself out. But a few details were missing and now that the entire world will be looking in on us this week here are a few more Passover-related items that might broaden the picture:

1. Back in 2000, Israel’s Brandman Research Institute found that 43 million people hours were spent nationwide in Israel’s cleaning preparations for Passover. How did that break down back then? Of those cleaning hours, 29 million were done by women and 11 million by men. Persons paid to clean filled out the remaining 3 million hours. Anyone care to wager whether those proportions have equalized out in 2013?

2. Speaking of men and Pesach…A few years ago, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu issued a ruling that Viagra may be taken on Pesach provided the pill is encased in a special empty capsule so that the drug itself is not in direct contact with the body.

3. Organizations that pass out food boxes to needy families came in for sharp criticism from some social critics who slammed the practice of making the poor line up to receive charity while TV cameras roll. One official suggested passing out supermarket debit cards to preserve a modicum of dignity for those in need.

4. The pre-Seder seders that used to be an annual event at Absorption Centers catering to those experiencing their very first Pesach in Israel are far less common now.  Aliya figures are down to around 16,000 per year, and this year brought the last of those with Jewish ancestry from Ethiopia to Israel.


Jewish Agency seder . Photo: Jewish Agency for Israel


5. Need to stock up on household goods?  Pre-Pesach is the time to do it, as stores compete to offer rock-bottom prices on dishes and cutlery.  The 50 NIS price ($13.50) for a  perfectly nice set of dishes for 6, kind of makes up for gas prices, which stand at an all-time high of about $8 per gallon.

6. Hat tip to Beit Shemesh resident Ron Allswang who pointed out a link between two of our pilgrimage festivals–Pesach and Sukkot: according to Ron there’s a minhag or custom on Erev Pesach to burn the Lulavim (the palm fronds we wave that poke people in the rear when riding the bus during Sukkot!) with the chametz…so don’t be surprised to see people wandering around with lulavim next Monday morning.

7. Another Sukkot-Pesach link–(think joy of water-drawing): Anyone who has not experienced erev Pesach traffic jams in Israel has not experienced a true traffic jam. With almost 90 percent of the population taking part in a Seder and the entire country taking vacation, traffic volumes are at their peak on erev Pesach.

8. Bank Hapoalim, which like every bank in Israel charges a fee for every single transaction, redeems itself slightly on Passover by underwriting free entrance to 45 sites, museums and attractions throughout the country during chol hamoed.

9. For some reason, it’s become expected practice for Israeli companies to give their workers gifts on Passover (and Rosh Hashanah…) The Tovanot Market research firm found that some 1.5 million workers in Israel receive gifts from their employers at this time of year.  Traditionally the most generous company is the Dead Sea Works whose workers got a check for NIS 1780 (about $480) + an iPad2 last year.

10.  The array of activities in Jerusalem during Passover is quite astounding. Click here for the most comprehensive listing.

Most of all, in Israel Passover is not just observed, it’s a celebration–a national holiday, the season am Yisrael became a nation.

President Obama couldn’t have picked a better time to visit.

About the Author
Author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times and Jerusalem Diaries II: What's Really Happening in Israel plus reams of blogs since 2001. Former host of the Jerusalem Diaries Show on I try to shed a little light on the quixotic, inspiring, frustrating and amusing aspects of life in the holy city.
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