Let me tell you a secret about making aliyah: Pesach.
When we decided to make aliyah, everyone said “Mazel Tov,” and then they’d start to coo. Ooh and awe in amazement. “Good for you,” they’d say. “You’re so brave. That’s so difficult. You must be so strong.”
It was embarrassing, really. But I believed it, too. I believed that we were doing something incredibly difficult. I believed that someday, by the sweat of our brow, we would earn the praise.
And then, along came our first Pesach here in Israel. Which was easy; almost unbelievably so.
Just about any yom tov here is easier. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise in the world’s only Jewish country, but there it is; it was a surprise to me.
Like before our first Rosh Hashanah, when, in the post office, the teller was selling holiday greeting cards. In the grocery store, honey was on sale (regular and silan, the delicious local date honey). Along the shoreline, we were far from the only family tipping out our pockets come Tashlich time.
Then came Sukkos, Simchas Torah, Chanukah, Purim… they were all so much easier than the same day anywhere else in the world.
Pesach without the monster
But Pesach. Pesach. Sweet, sweet, Pesach in Israel…
We have been here for two Pesachs now and each one has been a delicious, delicious surprise.
Okay, I don’t mean buying foods free from kitniyos (legume products forbidden to us minority Ashkenazim), which was actually harder this year than last, for some reason. But just… everything about the yom tov itself.
Here in Israel, there’s no Pesach Monster.
What’s the Pesach Monster?
In Toronto, at least, people treat Pesach like it’s a monster, coming to get them.
Stores that carry kosher food go through an extensive “turning-over” process that takes weeks and involves light-years of shelf paper. When it’s finished, the shelves are re-stocked with weird and unfamiliar brands, sub-par, funny-tasting foods that you eat for one week out of the year.
It’s not just grocery stores. Bakeries wave goodbye and shut down. Restaurants tremble before it and seal their doors for the week.
Get out of the way: the Pesach Monster’s coming through!
Here, though I’m sure things are no less kosher, Pesach is not a monster. The way Israelis do it, Pesach is an easy weight to carry.
For one thing, most restaurants stay open. It’s a busy time of year; families are all on vacation and milling about the country looking for spots to eat. In general, a kosher restaurant that closes loses a ton of tourist traffic.
Okay, it’s true that WE, as minority Ashkenazim, still can’t eat in the majority of Pesach restaurants. But it still makes me so, so happy that they’re open. That they’re not cowering before the Pesach monster.
My sister arrived in Israel on Thursday, April 2nd. Seder night was Friday, April 3rd. In Canada, that would be Panic Time.
“Pesach Monster coming through!” Naturally, I was sure my go-to restaurant in Tel Aviv, Uno, would have shut down.
Worried, I called ahead and asked if they were open. Absolutely, they said. Now, what I really go there for is the pizza and pasta, so I asked suspiciously if it was a regular menu or Pesach menu. Nope, the hostess assured me over the phone, they were cooking regular food on Thursday and would then re-open motzaei Shabbos with their Pesach menu.
I almost couldn’t believe it until I sat down and ordered the pasta… and it was true. Real, yummy, delicious pasta, ONE DAY before Pesach. It felt like a miracle, except that here, it’s just a normal thing that a restaurant could serve regular food one day and Pesach food 2 days later.
Where’s the Pesach aisle?
The other thing that’s not a monster here is the “changeover” in the supermarkets. In fact, it’s so subtle that if you blink, you’ll miss it. The regular Bissli and Bamba snacks are whisked out one night and replaced with… Pesach Bissli and Bamba.
Ditto for the cornflakes. Ditto for the soy sauce. Ditto for the vegetables in the freezer section and in cans up and down the shelves. Almost all of your favourite foods are simply reincarnated in an almost-indistinguishable Pesach edition.
Then, when Pesach actually starts, stores that follow the laws of selling chametz just cover up a few small sections with shelf paper to show what’s NOT for sale (stuff like pasta). And life goes on.
Where’s the monster? There is no Pesach Monster here. Pesach just… happens.
Now, again, we don’t eat Pesach cornflakes, or Pesach soy sauce, or Pesach Bamba. But it makes me happy that they’re there. That the grocery store at Pesach time looks almost exactly like at any other time of the year.
And, in fact, we did find ONE restaurant on a visit to Tzfat during Pesach that catered to Ashkenazim. Sitting down to rest at the Rosmarin Bistro Bar Cafe, we had an incredibly delicious meal, including a jaw-dropping potato-flour based “bread”:
Top: Halloumi salad with roasted sweet potatoes
Middle: Pesach “bread”
Bottom: Potatoes gratin (with pesto)
So before you buy into the idea that living in Israel is all about sacrifice, that it’s an uphill slog, that it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life…
Well, all those things are true.
But be prepared for the simpler moments, too. Get ready, be open, and you will realize that there are moments, maybe while you’ve got a delicious plate of Kosher-for-Pesach yummies in front of you, surrounded by not just a few people but an entire nation celebrating its liberation from slavery.
And you find yourself thinking, “Making aliyah? Easiest thing in the world.”
How was your Pesach? Let me know in the comments!