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Those Pesky Passover Days
by Judy Lash Balint
April 25, 2008

"Angel or Berman?" That's the pressing question of the day as the Passover holiday draws to a close in Jerusalem. Which bakery across town will have the shortest line for their freshly baked rolls after the Pesach dishes are packed away for another year; the foil is ripped off the oven and the plastic stripped off the counters.

Looking back on this Chol Hamoed week, it's eye-opening to realize that most visitors here for their first Pesach from abroad, no matter how religious, have no clue how seriously Israelis take their Passover holiday.

Tourists are always amazed at the tens of thousands who flock in to the Old City for Birkat Kohanim (the thrice yearly collective mass blessing of the priests) and the number of special events, tours and massive traffic jams that occur when an entire country goes on vacation together. Every year, more and more restaurants stay open during Pesach, and they're all packed.

This Pesach, even though we found ourselves in the grip of a fierce 6-day sharav heatwave with temperatures soaring into the high 90s, crowds thronged every free event in Jerusalem, including the four-times-a-night showing of a new multimedia history of the city projected onto the Old City walls outside Jaffa Gate.

We went on the second night, mistakenly thinking the crowds would be lighter, and found ourselves wedged in between a group of boisterous twenty-something men in T-shirts and a young Charedi family with two double strollers and three free-standing kids. Around us was the entire spectrum of Israeli society--everyone in a convivial and festive mood, all commenting on the "special atmosphere" of a sultry evening in front of the Old City awaiting a free, new attraction in our beloved city.

While we were waiting for the show to start, loudpseakers announced, "Ori Cohen, your parents are waiting for you in front of Jaffa Gate. Please approach any police officer near you and you'll be brought to your parents..." In the twenty minutes we stood taking in the ever-increasing masses who filled every space in the area above the new Alrov-Mamilla Mall, the announcement was repeated with different names no less than six times.

The 25-minute show, narrated by two well-known Israeli entertainment figures (Shuli Rand of "Ushpizin" fame and actor Lior Ashkenazi) and projected way larger than life on the 16th century walls, featured an emotional view of Jerusalem's history and it's signifiance to Jewish life throughout the ages. Accompanied by lively music and topped off by a 5-minute display of pyrotechnics over the Tower of David, the spectacle was just what was needed to keep our minds off the news of the day that keeps on intruding into our lives, Pesach or no Pesach.

Whether it's the latest alleged Israel spy scandal or the murder of two security guards or our prime minister who appears convinced that we should give away the Golan Heights--we'll deal with it all after Pesach. Or at least after we've figured out where to go for that first taste of chametz on Saturday night.