It would be ridiculous, preposterous, absurd for me to suggest that I wasn’t thinking about the holiday until the morning before. However, there is a HUGE difference between thinking about, even paying attention to something, and being focused on it with steely concentration. For example, shopping for what we need for Pesach always gets my attention. Unlike in The States, where the supermarkets put out their ‘Kosher for Passover’ items whenever it’s convenient for them in their aisle devoted to seasonal items (sometime after Valentine’s Day and before Easter), and there’s a mad rush to get whatever is available before it’s all sold out, here in The Land it’s no biggie. About two weeks before the appointed date, the markets begin putting out the matzot and everything associated with it, and if you forgot something, no worries, it’ll be there next time you shop. Of course, I’m always resupplying our larder, so the act of shopping for Pesach isn’t fundamentally different from what we do the rest of the year.
As Barbara and I grow older together, we need to conserve our energy; we start our Pesach cleaning shortly after Purim, doing a little bit at a time, so we don’t wear ourselves out. Barbara mostly tackles the kitchen cabinets, and I clean the refrigerator, the oven, and the stove top. Even so, housecleaning is housecleaning, a chore that is far from seasonal. While I understood the specific purpose of my endeavors, they weren’t enough to get my mind to concentrate on the holiday only a few days away.
Every year, I usually spend some time prior to the Seder reviewing the commentary in some edition of the Haggadah. This year, I perused Faith and Freedom (‘with commentary from the writings of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, compiled and edited by Reuven Mohl’). But, as ‘learning’ is a year-round activity, even having a copy of a Haggadah in my hand is not enough for my brain to rumble Pesach, Pesach, Pesach.
The process of ‘it really is Pesach’ begins in shul, when I write my name on the list of folks who are selling their hametz through the Chief Rabbi of our community and then to the Chief Rabbi of The Land to some reliable Druze officer in the IDF.
The process gathers momentum the evening before the Hag is to start, when we engage in the ritual of searching of hametz. Walking around our dimly-lit apartment, using a flashlight to search for some previously undiscovered bit of leavened substance, something we do only this one night in the calendar, starts the process of reminding myself that it’s not ‘business as usual.’ And then in the morning, it hits me big time. I walk downstairs, carrying all the bread we have set aside, and cross the street, where someone is sure to have started a bonfire to make ‘Pesach toast.’ Before long, a random collection of our neighbors, Jews of all stripes and persuasions, has gathered around, watching the flames consume all manner of forbidden foods, each individual with a copy of the Aramaic text that declares ‘it ain’t mine no more.’ Standing there, with the barbecue smell permeating my clothing (including the sweater we had just washed), watching my bread remnants – the ones I would have gladly inserted into our toaster the day before, warmed them up, and consumed with some low-fat goat cheese spread –go up in flames, finally forces me to realize that this night would indeed be different…….
My most important task of the day having been completed, it was time for me to head down the hill to Ron and Esther’s. We would again be accepting their hospitality for the Seder that evening, and, in addition to the kilo of hand shmurah matzoh I had previously supplied, I had with me a selection of Barbara’s amazing Pesach cakes and a bottle of wine. One bottle of wine for the Seder; that’s all? When you’re as limited as I am as to how much to drink, when four cups is reduced to four sips, even the single bottle for me and Barbara is a lot. Besides, there would be lots of other bottles on the table for the rest of the small crowd.
If I were to arrive later at our friends’ house, I would be in time to watch Ron make his own matzo, as he had done the previous year. I wouldn’t have the guts to try, because if you screw up, that’s a helluva lot of hametz to deal with. But Ron is resolute; he had traveled quite a distance to get the kosher l’Pesach flour, and he, rolling pin in hand, was going to do it!
I walked back up the hill on what is known as the ‘Snake Path,’ covered the entire way, top to bottom, with yellow wildflowers (perhaps Crown Daisies, Chrysanthemum coronarium, known locally as hartzit atura), our version of Wordsworth’s daffodils. And sure enough, there was another cluster of men and boys, intent on disposing of their hametz. Please don’t burn down the hillside.
That evening, I headed off to Musar Avicha for the evening davening before the Seder. Listening to the minyan go through Hallel at my shul is not for the faint of heart, what with the collective bellowing, tempered by a few hardy souls trying some four-part harmony. I had no choice but to flee the premises and, once more, head down the Snake Path to join the others (there would be nine of us in total, including our daughter Natania and our hosts’ daughter Sara).
We have participated in Ron and Esther’s Seder since our two families arrived in The Land (actually, on the same Nefesh b’nefesh flight). The format is always the same – what many families do – go around the table, taking turns reading the text either in Hebrew or English. On principle, I always read my part in my halting Hebrew, which has improved marginally over the years. We try not to rush through the reading, but we collectively have no interest in dawdling. As the years go by, I – as well as many others – have less and less interest in eating a full meal late at night, so I limit my food intake to the requisite amount of matzoh, some soup, and an egg, and let it go at that. By 11PM, we finish expressing our collective hope that Yerushalyim will be rebuilt in the coming year. It’s just about bedtime for the three Casdens; once again we make our way up the Snake Path and around the bend to our comfortable apartment. Will our collective wish be fulfilled, not just another high-rise building somewhere along Rehov Yaffo, but the restoration of the Beit Hamikdash? And would that mean that all our Seders would be cancelled? You are free to consider these weighty matters at your leisure. If anything changes in the next twelve months, I will be sure to let you know.