At Passover, breadcrumb spirituality

It’s been fascinating being here — in the Jewish state — for Passover, or Pesach as it’s known here, one … Continued

It’s been fascinating being here — in the Jewish state — for Passover, or Pesach as it’s known here, one of Judaism’s most widely observed holidays. Pesach is the seven or eight-day spring holiday starting Friday that commemorates the biblical story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.

First sign it was imminent came last week when my neighborhood bakery posted a notice saying they’d be closed from April 6-14th (that’s quite a long time) and if customers wanted
any
bread during that period, they needed to order beforehand. My baker’s off to Crete for the holiday, as is one of my Jerusalem girlfriends. (Everybody’s off to somewhere. Or they’ve got people coming here.)

Then store shelves started draining of bread and filling up with various kinds of matzo — the flat, unleavened cracker that is eaten instead of bread during Passover, also known as the “Festival of Unleavened Bread.”

Unleavened bread is eaten because believers say the Israelites left in such a hurry they couldn’t wait for the bread dough to rise.

Then the (non-Jewish) woman who comes to clean my apartment every couple of weeks called to cancel, saying all her Jewish clients needed her to clean extra-thoroughly, to “get every breadcrumb.”

Her work load, she said–sounding stressed–was overwhelming: “I have to take all the furniture out of the house, and then put it all back again. I was at one lady’s house for 12 hours yesterday.”

Soon after, I saw exactly what she meant, just down the street: An Orthodox man in my neighborhood outside on his terrace with a flashlight (and a neon light overhead) going through the drawers of a closet he had dragged outside — for about an hour. Although I can’t say for sure, he may have been looking for breadcrumbs.

According to custom you can’t have even one left in your house by the time Passover starts.

I headed down to Mea Sharim, Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to see what Pesach preparations were happening there. Plenty, I found.

Orthodox Jews in the neighborhood were lining up at big vats of boiling water on street corners with bags of dishes and pots — cleansing their dishes of any breadcrumbs, to make them suitable for Passover. More affluent Jews will have an entire separate set of dishes for the holiday, but many in the ultra-Orthodox of Mea Sharim live in poverty.

And then, a parade of black-hatted, black-suited men and boys — dozens, if not hundreds, I promise — pushing big trolleys (or old baby strollers, grocery carts, anything with wheels) to and from a huge, open-air food distribution site. Organizers said it was a Passover charity food give-away to needy Orthodox families. Tuesday was “men’s day.” The following day was “women’s day.”

While I was trying to speak to one of the organizers, who spoke only Hebrew, a young man in a white shirt, black trousers and a black hat asked me in perfect English if I needed any help.

“Yes, yes, I do,” I replied enthusiastically, and then struck up a long conversation with the 21-year-old from New Jersey studying at a nearby yeshiva. Jackpot! I could ask him anything I hadn’t yet understood about Pesach.

“Tell me about this buying and selling of ‘chametz’ (or leavening, something made from one of five types of grain),” I finally asked him.

One day last week, while having coffee at a neighborhood café, a religious man stopped to ask the café owner if he had any “chametz” (left-over bits of leavening) to sell. I had asked the owner about it. He had said you can sell chametz to goys (non-Jews) for Passover and then buy it back afterwards, if you want.

“I can’t explain chametz just like that, in five minutes,” the earnest, young, deeply religious young man replied to my question. “Entire scholarly works have been written just about chametz.”

Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186686495
The End of Surveillance for New York Muslims — For Now

How American Muslims modeled the right response to systematic injustice.