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Last Minute Details
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel national news Radio Commentary
April 6, 2001

Smoke rose from Jerusalem this morning. No, not the smoke of battle. The wisps of grey which ascended to the skies today were the signs of the fulfillment of the commandment to divest oneself and one's household from all vestiges of chametz (leaven) before the Passover festival.

Following weeks of rigorous cleaning and last night's symbolic search for traces of leaven, the offending particles of bread, cereal or cookies were burned in empty lots and parks all over Israel.

Across the street from my apartment, in an undeveloped piece of Green Belt land, small groups of fathers and children gathered all morning to perform the ritual. They watched the bags of chometz, weighted down with a stone, shrivel into ash before their eyes. Chometz may be interpreted as the internal baggage we carry as individuals and as a nation, so this year's ritual was seen by some as possessing special significance. An opportunity, perhaps, to really clean house and look at our grim situation with new eyes.

But the practical aspects of Pesach still require attention, and at Machane Yehuda , Jerusalem's central market, the physical aspects of the festival were receiving careful attention. Yesterday, President Moshe Katzav visited Machane Yehuda with an entourage of press and security personnel. His visit was supposed to encourage people to shop at the market which has been the scene of many terrorist attacks over the years.

Seems like Jerusalemites didn't need too much encouragement-this morning the place was packed with shoppers under the watchful eye of dozens of IDF, border police and plainclothes cops.

Colorful fruits and vegetables; eggs by the crate; fragrant spices; flowers and housewares galore, all adorn the bustling alleys. A cross section of the city's residents are out stocking up. One of the first people I see is former MK Benny Begin, son of prime minister Menachem Begin. Begin, a modest archeology professor, is dressed simply and carries a plastic shopping bag. He responds politely to the many greetings yelled his way as he passes the merchants.

Right next to a stand selling bounteous bunches of bananas at ridiculously low prices, groups of Romanian and Moldovan construction workers are quaffing down beer as if they're in the streets of Timisiora. No doubt they're celebrating the fact that they'll have a real two day weekend for a change.

Because of the confluence of Shabbat and Pesach this year, bakery stalls which have not changed over to kosher for Pesach goods, are still selling rolls and pita. This is to enable families to observe the commandment to eat three meals on Shabbat, while maintaining the custom of refraining from eating matzo before the seder. (Very complicated-ask your local rabbi..)

Many shoppers are taking advantage of their last opportunity to eat falafel and schwarma in pita, and long lines grace those stands as their owners try to make a few more shekels before their enforced week of vacation.

I look everywhere for some measuring cups or spoons. I ask for them in at least ten houseware places. Each time I'm told a variation of the same thing-we don't carry them; there's no demand for them. I guess most Israeli cooks don't need measuring cups-they just eyeball quantities for recipes.

On the way home I notice that the roads look a little different today. I finally figure out that it's because most car owners have washed their vehicles. The dust, sand and grime of Jerusalem have been temporarily erased from the streets, and paintwork and chrome sparkle in the sun.

Back home, the aroma of chicken soup wafts from every apartment in the building and an invitation to a matzo brei party next week awaits a reply on my answering machine.

Pesach is almost here...

Chag kasher v'sameach from the land of one seder and one day yomtov.