Heddy Abramowitz
Artist Living in the Eye of the Storm

The Jewish Spring, Jerusalem Style

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.

Bernard Picart “Searching for Leaven” from “Ceremonies des Juifs” circa 1723-1743

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.

David Roberts “The Israelites Leaving Egypt” 1830 oil on canvas 119 cm X 212 cm Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

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.

Jewish Quarter Road Challot IMG_0828
“Jewish Quarter Road, Old City, Challot for Sale Pre-Pesach” c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

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.

“Last Rugelach” c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

Shoppers anticipate the last shopping for leavened products before the holiday, such as the popular yeast cake snacks in every shape and flavor.


“New Garlic Braids” c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

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.

“Almonds and Strawberries” c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

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.

“Spring Greens” c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz
“Buying Kosher for Pesach Nut Snacks” c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

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.

“Blossoming Tree in Nachlaot” c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

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.



About the Author
Heddy Abramowitz is a Jerusalem artist. Born in Brooklyn, NY to Holocaust survivors, raised in the southern Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., she shelved her career as an Israeli lawyer in favor of her first love, painting, and exhibits her art in Israel and abroad. Some say she is a lawyer in recovery, others just shake their heads. Believing that art communicates when words fail, she reviews Jerusalem art exhibits in English to broaden audiences for art made in this unique city. She also occasionally weighs in on current events. Living many years in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City significantly affected her outlook on living here, a work in progress. Good dark chocolate is her one true vice.