** Visit http://flickr.com/photos/jerusalemdiaries/ for Pesach photos taken today**
Jerusalem--There's nothing quite like Israel on the morning before Passover. Everyone is already in vacation mode, apart from the shop keepers, taxi drivers and anyone connected with the tourism industry. It feels as if the whole country is on the move. In my Jerusalem neighborhood, vans from the airport disgorge weary passengers shlepping suitcases and taxis deposit locals arriving to visit relatives for the holiday. The activity around the nearby hotels reaches fever pitch as the tourists descend to fill every vacant space. Magen David Adom is taking advantage of the renewed tourist influx to schedule a blood drive at the David's Citadel Hotel over the holiday.
Meantime, the first order of business of the day is the burning of the chometz. Little smoke pyres sprout up in garbage cans and empty lots all over the city as we rid ourselves of the last vestiges of the puffed up material.
Over at the Machane Yehuda market those of us who have to make Pesach at home are finishing our last minute purchases. Fruits and vegetables glisten with freshness as almost everything is locally grown. Right now strawberries and artichokes are at their peak; peaches and bananas from the Jordan valley are piled high and huge avocados are selling for 80¢ a pound. Pungent fresh bulbs of purple garlic cover one whole area of the market while the spice sellers do a brisk business on all the fresh spices needed to spruce up the otherwise bland Passover food.
Seated at tables in the middle of the maelstrom of shoppers are several orthodox men offering the last minute opportunity to either sell chametz or donate to one of the funds providing meals for the needy.
As the falafel and shwarma stands close down, Arab employees make their way home carrying bags with the last remaining pitta bread as the rest of us haggle over matzo prices.
A survey undertaken by the Marketing Information research Institute found that about 50 percent of the Israeli public approves of the Hametz law, which forbids businesses to publicly exhibit hametz products during Pesach. Go into any grocery store or supermarket during the Passover holiday and you'll see entire aisles covered with butcher paper to comply with the law.
All day, the radio stations broadcast Passover oriented music and interviews. This year there are several interviews with Gush Katif evacuees. One woman explains that she'll be celebrating the seder with her immediate family only--there's simply no room to accomodate her married children and grandchildren. She adds that until last August, her husband operated an extremely successful agricultural business in Gush Katif and they supported many charitable programs. Today, he is out of work and struggling to get up every morning to face another unproductive day.
Other interviewees include Rabbi Yitzchak Grossman, the Israel Prize winner from Migdal Haemek. Rabbi Grossman, who runs a nationwide network of social service programs, went on the air on the popular Galei Tzahal station to thank the army radio broadcasters for publicizing his Passover program that resulted in the contribution of hundreds of thousands of shekels from donors all over the country toward providing food baskets for the needy.
Meantime, other news doesn't stop for Passover. The usual far left suspects used the Passover newspapers to publicize their call for the European Union to fund Hamas. Ads from Gush Shalom proclaimed, "Start a dialogue with Hamas!" Picking up on the theme was the most senior Roman Catholic official in Israel, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah. In his Easter message, Sabbah called on Israel to initiate diplomatic relations with Hamas without preconditions, and then incredibly went on to declare: "There is no persecution of Christians by Muslims."
Traffic jams start to build as Israelis take to the highways to spend seder night with relatives and friends. Yad Sarah, the non-profit group that loans a variety of medical equipment to anyone who asks, mobilized their 33 vans to transport elderly and disabled relatives to their families' homes for the holiday. A certain quiet settles over Jerusalem as the finishing touches are put to seder tables and some even manage to catch a nap before the ancient ritual begins that recalls the momentous events leading up to the birth of our nation.