Israel’s Passover Bread Police (BLOG)

During the weeklong holiday period, observant Jews do not consume ‘chametz’ (leavened food), which Jewish law determines not kosher for Passover. The extent to which this Passover food effect consumes the entire country will never cease to surprise me.

Living in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago, I tried to buy a bag of hard candy, only to be refused by the supermarket because it contained some trace of chametz. Tarps cover entire aisles of offending food items, from bags of flour to packaged cakes.

This year I walked past a sign in multiple languages posted at the entrance of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, declaring the hospital a chametz-free zone, with guards turning bread-toting people away, even from a hallway deep inside.

What if a sick person only has the stomach for a piece of toast? Why can’t a non-Jew like me eat something else?

Times of Israel reports a Tel Aviv couple filed a discrimination complaint this month with the Afula Municipality after witnessing families being denied entry to the city’s main park, because they possessed bread during the Passover holiday. Security guards actually search through picnic baskets, turning sandwiches away at the entrance.

Before the week starts, religious Jews clean flour from every crack of their homes, boiling dishes on the sidewalks to really be sure every speck of chametz is eliminated. On Passover eve, fresh challah sells fast off the bakery racks before it has a chance to cool. The leftovers are burned outside the next day as the holiday begins.

Some bakeries or other establishments transform into dream stores for the gluten-intolerant during Passover, while many restaurants just close all together. Tel Aviv, the place where free-spirits flock, certainly offers more options than anywhere else in Israel. But our high threat bag of candy sure made the checkout register beep loudly at us while standing in the center of the Tel Aviv at a major grocery store chain.

From the perspective of an outsider, the Passover bread policing feels rather extreme and certainly exclusive. Some tourists may be surprised to find matzah crackers served in cafes next to their eggs for breakfast this week. Meanwhile secular Jewish Israeils toast bread from their freezers. And as a non-Jew, I like to spend the week eating freshly baked pita from Arab bakeries near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem.

A family burns bread in Jerusalem at the start of Passover
A family burns bread in Jerusalem before Passover begins
Our Passover Seder dinner table - symbolic foods include matzah, hardboiled egg, horseradish, wine, charoset sw
Our Passover Seder dinner table – symbolic foods include matzah, hardboiled egg, horseradish, wine, and charoset (sweet fruit salad, made here from dates).
Shoppers stroll past covered leavened foods and a sign which reads Chametz
Shoppers stroll past covered leavened foods and a sign which reads Chametz
Reach under the plastic all you want, the store wont
Reach under the plastic all you want, the store won’t sell you that bag of candy
Sign posted at a Jersualem hospital warns against non-Kosher food  in multiple languages
Sign posted at a Jersualem hospital warns against non-Kosher food in multiple languages
Cover the whiskey, but other spirits are still for sale
Cover the whiskey, but other spirits are still for sale
Even the airport shop?
Even the airport shop?
This special Arabic sweet mutabak may look flat, but the crispy cross between baklava and a crepe is definitely not kosher for Passover.
This special Arabic sweet mutabak may look flat, but the crispy cross between baklava and a crepe is definitely not kosher for Passover.
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