The view from my veranda

Shabbat Shalom letter from Jerusalem

April 15th, 2011

Shabbat Shalom dear friends – countdown is on!!!

No news this week, just a happy Shabbat Shalom. My hands are too careworn from Pesach cleaning to type!

Jerusalem is so clean! I swear that the white stones are glistening, the streets gleaming and the parks have not one sweet wrapper on the ground as we prepare for the last run-up to Passover!!! Despite the wonderful orange blossom on the trees the predominant scent is of cleaning fluids!

The shouk, Mahane Yehuda, is buzzing and the multi-coloured mountains of newly picked fruit and vegetables are grabbed as if going out of style. In the markets the fish are jumpin’ in the springtime too. Carp, traditionally used to make gefilte fish, is so fresh that it is bought alive and I won’t describe the other part! Remember the supermarket I went to last week that had nothing on the shelves because they were cleaning them all? Well this week even the wide passageways were filled to overflowing and the streets around Givat Shaul were lined with huge delivery trucks trying hard to keep up with demand!

I have not seen my neighbours for a week or two, but I can hear them. The constant hum of vacuum cleaners and furniture being dragged to clean behind, the thud of carpet beating on verandas and the sound of scrubbing as apartments and houses are prepared for Passover. The sense of spiritual cleansing is deep in our souls and the excitement of the new and fresh days to come make it all worthwhile. However – it is important to remember that Passover is the festival that celebrates our delivery from slavery so please – don’t overdo it!

Seder – the order of reading the story of the Exodus from Egypt is brilliantly put together. We eat herbs; we bless the wine; the children ask four essential questions “Why is this night different from all other nights” pertaining to our behaviour on this night; the host then reads the story to explain to the children so that they will also make their nights different to all other nights and respect our incredible achievements for a nation that has been in slavery not once but many times.

We eat unleavened bread – to appreciate the simple essentials of life of a free man
We eat a hard boiled egg in salt water – to celebrate new life embodied in an egg combined with the tears we shed in slavery.
We eat bitter herbs, herbs and a delicious combination – to remember the bitterness, to celebrate the green of new growth and to remember the cement between the stones of the incredible structures we built in slavery.
We eat……….. and eat………… and eat……….. and eat!!! Oh yes, predominantly we eat after reading the story and then we thank G-d for what we have eaten, we put out wine for the Prophet Elijah who visits each home (not down the chimney though) and then we sing special songs.

This year we have another international Seder with guests from California, Mexico, Florida, Cuba, Puerto Rica, Canada, Philippines, Russia, Wales (that’s me) and of course……………………JERUSALEM!!!

Usually I describe the aromas but today I want to tell you about the sounds of Seder. Each family has its own traditions and after the dispersion they absorbed the music, sounds and prayers of their host nations, bringing them back to Israel together with the wonderful mixture of foods. Here the melting pot is different to other places, other countries – we didn’t emigrate or immigrate – we came home. As I look over Jerusalem, waiting for our guests and family to arrive I wonder at the panorama which presents itself before my eyes. “The View from my Veranda”. What an amazing country this is; what an amazing city this is and we built it, we rebuilt it and we are indeed an exceptional people to have done so against all odds. Even those who agreed to our homecoming didn’t think we could survive and look at us now! We didn’t just survive – we thrive! We thrive despite political, diplomatic and heart wrenching terror because we are meant to be here and we know it.

9 years ago Naomi Ragen and her family decided to go to Netanya for Passover, so that they would be in a hotel and she would work less. Thank G-d Naomi and her family were saved but horribly traumatised – others were not so lucky. A homicide bomber walked into the Park Hotel, Netanya and blew himself up turning a happy throng into a war zone. The UN condemns Israel for attacking civilians – so what in G-d’s name was this? As we sit down to our Seder night we must remember those who did not reach the table but were struck down by hatred, again.

So, back to Jerusalem and the insanity of pre-Pesach buying! This morning we raced out early to a very religious supermarket in the Romema neighborhood which always has the “non-legume” goods that I search out. Interestingly enough in this neighborhood it is the men who wander confused around the supermarket carefully following the list of goods their wives have carefully written – of course adding a few extra sweets, chocolates, nuts and various luxury items that the wives omitted! Beards and sidecurls flying they race from row to row carefully reading each label for the type of Kashrut (Rabbinical approval) and whether it may be for Eastern Jews who are allowed to each “kitniot” or pulses. The piles of food grow and grow to feed the huge families and the supermarket check-out girls – also religious – wait for the end of the seemingly endless days.

I must go and attend to my own piles of food and empty cupboards cleaned and lined. I was fascinated to discover that while most people give their “hametz’ or leavened goods to a Rabbi to dispose of, in Givat Zeev, where my daughter lives, they give all the perfectly good and healthy “hametz’ to Arabs in a nearby village. Such cruel settlers eh?

Cary, in far of California, asked me what Jerusalemites say on Seder Night since the whole Jewish world invokes the prayer “Next Year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Passover Seder (literally means order but has become a term for the meals at which we recite the story of Exodus) but we are already here. Cary dear, the prayer is not just a selfish prayer, it is a prayer for the whole Jewish people. Here we it sing with extra gusto so that you will come here too – “NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM” ……… next year and the year after that and the year after that and after that and after that………… ad infinitum. AMEN

I wish you a happy and kasher Pesach – with love from Jerusalem where it all started!