Last year, for the first time in well over a decade, we celebrated Pesach in California. Seder was lovely, the food was delish, and the company was wonderful. But I felt a bit sad–almost slightly depressed—about not being in Israel, where there is nothing sweeter than observing the pre-Pesach preparation fun and games that begin approximately one month before the holiday. Back in our Israeli apartment for the festival, I offer these observations.
1. Israelis have turned Pesach cleaning into a full-on extreme sport. We aren’t just talking about deep cleaning. This isn’t about scrubbing the house until it shines. We are talking about a hard-core crackdown…from the outside in and the inside out…dusting every flower in the garden to disinfecting the insulation of each building. If one intends to buy new furniture, paint the interior or exterior of the house, install new curtains, or complete renovations, all such activity must, must, must happen “before Pesach.” It’s a frenzy that extends to all corners and all Jewish households in the state of Israel. We are commanded that “In every generation you should feel as if you, yourself, personally left Egypt in the Exodus.” And here in Israel, it’s not a drill. This is serious exodus-ing at its very finest.
2. Each and every supermarket, restaurant, hair salon and car wash and other retail shop has been packed for over a month with panicking, frantic consumers. Everyone is preparing food, buying gifts, and “making order” so that there will be what to eat and with whom to eat it. I know that we do our very best in the States and in other places outside of Israel to make sure that everyone has a place at a seder. In Israel, the concept of inviting the stranger is engrained into the very heart of this country. Here, no one sits alone for this holiday. It is simply not an option.
3. Today I received a text message on my phone that read “to sell your chametz, dial *8044 and we will be happy to accommodate.” (Not included in the text: We are about to charge you an outrageous fee and please don’t bother to read the small print about the fact that the whole idea of “selling” chametz is simply a legal fiction…) Nevertheless, it was still pretty extraordinary to receive that text–just another reminder of why I love this country–the blend of the ancient and the modern–where even technology is harnessed to assist people observe the festival.
Pesach isn’t really about curtains or haircuts or presents (it is much more customary to give and receive presents on Pesach than it is on Chanukah in this country). Rather, it is a holy opportunity to clear out the muckiness, in our homes, in our heads, and in our hearts. I have always contended that the ritual act of cleaning out the chametz was always meant to be a physical reminder of the emotional exercise of breaking free from whatever might be holding us back from true freedom in our lives. There is no place in the world where we have constant, beautiful reminders to do our internal work than here in Israel.
As I muse, sitting on my balcony looking over the Mediterranean Sea and listening to the calls of chag sameach among the people who live on my street… I’ll extend that blessing to you, wherever you may be this Pesach. May your seder table overflow with family, friends and food. May this be a Pesach drenched in the sweet tastes of freedom. And may this be a Pesach that brings us all a physical cleaning and a spiritual healing.