March 31, 2015

Spiritual cleansing

I crank up our little gas oven to kasher it. I soak the knobs in soapy water, clean out the fridge and wash down the counters. Now ready for the final phase of kashering, I pour boiling water across all of the counters and tabletops. Carefully wiping up the steaming water with a clean towel, I feel as if I am washing away the old and ushering in a fresh new phase. It’s a great feeling.
(from my novel Let My RV Go!)

During these pre-Pesach days, an infinitesimal percentage of the planet’s population hunkers down to scrub and clean and cook. 

If you live outside of Israel, you may take it seriously, but the rest of your country folk continue on with their regular lives.

But here in Israel, an entire nation is busy spring cleaning, shopping, cooking and celebrating. All together.

In Israel, it does not matter whether you are religious or not. Everyone in the country cleans.

Last week, all the students at my daughter’s school cleaned the buildings; they scrubbed the walls, the desks, emptied lockers and swept halls. 

My two kids in the army, together with their entire units, took time off to clean their army bases; they scrubbed every surface on the base, then waited nervously for the highers in command to inspect their important army work.  
Sign outside army base: No chametz until April 12

When you live in Israel you can’t miss Passover because Passover is everywhere.

My phone beeps and buzzes with text messages advertising discounts at supermarkets like this: 

ניקול להזכירך, לכבוד החג נשלח אליך בדואר שובר הנחה 20 ש"ח בקנייה מעל 250 ש"ח למימוש בסניפי שופרסל עד ה12.4.15. מימוש אישי חד פעמי פרטים בסניף. ניתן לממש גם באפליקציית שופרסל: לפרטים נוספים . חג שמח ממועדון 

Billboards wish us all a chag sameach as they announce the newest line of perfumes. This is standard holiday marketing, the kind you would find in North America before Christmas.

Yet Passover in Israel has its own unique twist. Here are some small observations as I did my errands yesterday.

I took a bag of glass bottles for return. I always take them to the same supermarket and always see the same security guard at the door. He looked in my bag.

“Bottles?” he asked. I felt as if I were smuggling some dangerous weapon.

“Yes, I relied, confused.

“No more bottles until after Pesach,” he said, waving his metal detector in the air, as if this were one of the 10 commandments.

 “But, that’s bizarre,” I protested, wondering about the logic of grocery store refusing to take bottle returns for a month just because of a Jewish holiday.

I returned to my car, bottles in hand, knowing that Pesach was serious business in strange ways.

I then went to the car wash.  It was five days before the Pesach seder and it seemed as if everyone in Ra’anana was at the car wash at this very moment. The line of cars went right down the street. Why did I not think of doing this last week?

Running a car wash is a great pre-Passover business. The car wash even had a sign outside announcing an extra special Passover deep cleaning.

Later, when I returned to pick up my car, I did not see the cashier, but I did see an unattended basket filled with car keys. As a reticent, polite Canadian, I did not feel it was my place to sort through the keys when no one was in the office, so I went out to look for her. A worker saw me and thrust the basket in front of me.

“You new here?” He asked, astonished that I did not help myself to any car on the lot.

“No,” I said, sorting through the keys.

I picked out one that looked like it could be mine.

“Try it,” he said, as if he were inviting me to pick any car and drive it home.

Here was a perfect combination of mayhem and trust. Where else on the planet would this happen?

As I drove home in my super shiny, scrubbed and vacuumed car, I saw a moving trucks sitting outside a few homes. Ah ha! The best time ever to move into a newly built or renovated home is before Pesach. The logic? When you have a brand new kitchen, there is no need to kasher it for Pesach.

I then became stuck behind an overladen pick-up truck. It was weighed down with junk: metal bars, fence pieces, old appliances. I even thought I spied a doghouse wedged in there.

I recognized this truck as I had often seen it wend its way up and down streets, a prerecorded message screaming out to people to throw away their junk. Well, 'tis the season to get rid of stuff. This truck is so piled high, looks like it won’t make it down the block.

Last stop was the health food store. As I checked out, the cashier told me that my huge order made me eligible to buy a box of organic matzah for only 9 ILS. 

"Why not?" I replied, tossing yet another box of organic whole wheat matzah into my shopping bag. 

So Pesach is in the air: it's at the car wash, on the billboards and out there in cyberspace. It's in the matzah at the health food store.

As I wrote in my novel Let My RV Go:

All foods that have been leavened are puffed up, akin to our egos. We rid ourselves of selfishness and bad drives, opening the way for a more direct spiritual connection. So when we clean these leavened foods from our homes, we are, in essence, cleansing our souls.

Wishing you a chag kasher v'sameach and a real spiritual cleansing.

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