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Eighteen ways You Know Pesach is Coming to Jerusalem
Birkat Cohanim, Blessing of the Priests at the Western Wall during Passover
by Judy Lash Balint
Atlanta Jewish Journal
April 18, 2005

1. Street scenes in Israel change every day before Passover according to what's halachically necessary: For the week before the holiday, yeshiva students wielding blow torches preside over huge vats of boiling water stationed every few blocks on the street and in the courtyard of every mikveh. The lines to dunk cutlery, kiddush cups and the like start to grow every day, and, at the last minute, blow torches are at the ready to cleanse oven racks and stove tops lugged through the streets, of every last gram of chametz.

2. No alarm clock needed here--the clanging garbage trucks do the trick as they roll through the neighborhood every morning during the two weeks before Pesach to accomodate all the refuse from the furious cleaning going on in every household.

3. On Friday, the day before Passover, families replace the yeshiva students, using empty lots to burn the remainder of their chametz gleaned from the previous night's meticulous search. Street corner flower vendors do great business too.

4. Most flower shops stay open all night for the two days before Pesach, working feverishly to complete the orders that will grace the nation's seder tables.

5. Meah Shearim and Geula merchants generally run out of heavy plastic early in the week before Pesach. In a panic, I make an early morning run to the Machane Yehuda market to succesfully snap up a few meters of the handy counter-covering material.

6. No holiday in Israel is complete without a strike or two. Two years ago, the Histadrut Labor federation threatened to launch a general strike 10 days before the holiday to protest planned economic cuts. Last minute negotiations postponed the dreaded event. So far this year, the Bezek telephone company, banks and the post office have all informed us of pre-Pesach strikes.

7. Good luck if you haven't scheduled an appointment for a pre-Pesach/Omer haircut. You can't get in the door at most barber and beauty shops.

Observant Jews mark the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot by carrying out some of the laws of mourning--one of these is the prohibition against cutting hair.

8. Mailboxes are full of Pesach appeals from the myriad of organizations helping the poor celebrate Pesach. Newspapers are replete with articles about selfless Israelis who volunteer by the hundreds in the weeks before the holiday to collect, package and distribute Pesach supplies to the needy.

This year, Hazon Yeshaya Soup Kitchens plan on serving 7,000 meals per day during Passover. More than 15,000 food parcels will be distributed before the holiday, just by this one organization.

9. The biggest food challenge to those of us ashkenazic, non-kitniyot (legume) eaters is finding cookies etc. made without kitniyot. Most years, many restaurants in the city stayed open, offering special Pesach menus--most without kitniyot, to accomodate the largely ashkenazic tourist population that used to be their bread and butter (matzo & butter?) For the past few years, restaurants closed for the week, as Pesach tourism was sparse, but projections are for a banner year this Pesach, so we're hoping to eat a few good meals out.

10. Since most of the country is on vacation for the entire week of Pesach, all kinds of entertainment and trips are on offer. Ads appear for everything from the annual Boombamela beach festival, solidarity visits to Gush Katif, kid's activities at the Bloomfield Science Museum and concerts in Hebron.

11. Pesach with its theme of freedom and exodus always evokes news stories about recent olim. This year, general immigration numbers are significantly down, but American aliya has enjoyed a mini-boom. For a couple of thousand new Israeli-Americans, it'll be their first seder at home in Israel.

12. This just in: According to Israel's Brandman Research Institute study, 43 million people hours will be spent nationwide in Israel's cleaning preparations for Passover this year. How does that break down? Of those cleaning hours, 29 million are done by women and 11 million by men. Persons paid to clean do the remaining 3 million hours at a cost of NIS 64 million ($15.6 million).

13. Israel's chief rabbis sell the nation's chametz to an Arab resident of Abu Ghosh. Estimated worth: 150 million shekel (about $28 million).

14. Radio commercials for all sorts of products and services are set to seder tunes. This year, Volkswagen is using the Mah Nishtana tune to advertise its cars. Another favorite is "Echad Mi Yodeya?--Who Knows One?" that has become a jingle for one brand of coffee. "Four mothers, three fathers, two sugars, one cup of coffee!"

15. For those of us too lazy to go to our rabbis to sell Chametz, one Israeli website offers the possibility of performing this ritual in cyberspace: For those of you out there with Hebrew enabled computers, take a look at

16. Sign of the times? This year, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu issued a ruling that Viagra may be taken on Pesach provided the pill is encased in a special empty capsule so that the drug itself is not in direct contact with the body.

17. Right before Pesach (and Rosh Hashana) thousands of personal notes are removed from the crevices of the Kotel and buried on the Mt of Olives.

18. A sign of our difficult economic times--supermarkets entice shoppers with a promise to allow us to settle up the bill in six equal monthly payments on the credit card. Yes, many of us will still be paying for the seder come Rosh Hashana!