Midnight, just a few hours after the close of the Pesach holiday, and it's near bedlam at the corner of Beit Hadfus Street in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood.
Angel's Bakery that occupies that corner is awash in chametz-seeking Jews, eager to get that first taste of leavened bread after seven days of matzah. It's definitely those orthodox Israelis whose tradition dictates the consumption of cardboard-style handmade shmura matza who are first in line to snap up the fragrant but plain long rolls as the bakery fires up after the holiday.
Even at this hour, the line extends out of the store and down the stairs, almost to the street where desperate bread buyers who have only just finished putting away their Pesach dishes vie for the few available parking spots, leaving others to dispatch their kids while they stay in their cars and block the street.
Those in the know drive on a few blocks to competitor Berman's Bakery, where the parking is easier. Security guards scan the seemingly endless crowd that descends on the small store till the wee hours. Bakery workers are virtually mobbed as they emerge from the back every few minutes with baskets of fresh rolls. This year at Bermans there are two choices--long, plain white rolls or round, whole wheat scattered with seeds. Some people are buying dozens, while others stuff just a few of the warm breads into plastic bags and head for the cash register.
The four cashiers try to maintain a semblance of order and no one seems to begrudge the five or ten minutes spent in line since it's an opportunity to inhale the heady fragrance of freshly-baked bread.
For thousands of other Israelis, the close of Pesach means not only clamoring for bread but the beginning of Mimouna. Call it a return to roots or a belated awakening of interest in our ethnic traditions. In recent years the Mimouna celebration has become one of Israel's most popular festivities, embraced by Israelis of all origins.
While no one can quite tell you why Mimouna is celebrated --some say it's to mark the passing of the father of the revered 12th century Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) who died right after the conclusion of Passover--Moroccan Jews have used the occasion to throw open their homes for neighborhood parties to feast on freshly-made traditional pastries (muflettot), let loose and toast the end of Passover.
Here in Israel, where tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews settled during the turbulent 1950s and 60s, the parties have been elevated to national status and expanded to parks and synagogues. The Mimouna celebrations are a mandatory stop for politicians of all stripes. This year's main festivities took place in the Ashdod Opera House and provided an opportunity for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to issue a plea for unity in the face of "all the difficult things we have to deal with."
During the day, the Mimouna festivities continue with large gatherings in parks in every city in the country. The largest crowd is expected in the southern town of Netivot, home to the tomb of the Baba Sali, a revered Moroccan kabbalist rabbi.
In the words of the traditional Mimouna greeting: "Tarbakhu u-tsa'adu," May you prosper and be successful. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a few rolls to finish.