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Passover: Israel style

By Judy Lash Balint/JNS.org

ct cover 12-2-11JERUSALEM—Not every Israeli observes Passover, but every Israeli knows Passover is coming.
Preparations for the seven-day holiday are impossible to ignore and encroach on almost every facet of life in the weeks leading up to seder night.
Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reveals that 88 percent of Israelis will take part in a seder and 47 percent will eat only kosher for Passover items during the holiday.

Koshering underway on a Jerusalem street. Credit: Judy Lash Balint.

Koshering underway on a Jerusalem street.
Credit: Judy Lash Balint.

As for Israel’s army, some 200 IDF chaplains, including reservists, are pressed into service to commence the massive task of koshering the hundreds of kitchens, mess halls and eating corners used by soldiers at bases all over the country. According to Rabbi Zev Roness, a captain in the Armored Training School, “It’s a whole operation… The army prepares more than a month before Passover to ensure that all of the army kitchens meet the highest kosher-for-Passover standards.”
Street scenes in Israel change every day before Passover according to what’s halakhically necessary: Several days before the seder, young men wielding blow torches preside over huge vats of boiling water stationed every few blocks on the street and in the courtyard of every mikveh.
The lines to dunk metal utensils start to grow every day, and at the last minute before the seder, blow torches are at the ready to cleanse every last gram of chametz from oven racks and stove tops lugged through the streets by kids or overwrought mothers.
Prominent newspaper ads from Israel’s Energy Ministry feature dire warnings about the dangers inherent in cleaning gas burners. The text of the ads advises on the minutiae of taking apart the metal covers to get at that last bit of chametz.
No alarm clock is needed in the pre-Passover period–clanging garbage trucks do the trick as they roll through the neighborhood every morning during the two weeks before Passover to accommodate all the refuse from the furious cleaning going on.
Two days before the seder, there’s the annual pickup of oversized items and appliances. Dozens of antiquated computer monitors and old toaster ovens stand forlornly next to the garbage bins.
The day before Passover, families seek out empty lots to burn the remainder of their chametz gleaned from the previous night’s meticulous search. The city is dotted with sputtering fires despite ads posted by the Jerusalem municipality announcing the location of official chametz burning bins and banning fires in any other areas.
Most flower shops stay open all night for the two days before Passover, working feverishly to complete the orders that will grace the nation’s seder tables.

Burning chametz on a Jerusalem street on the eve of Passover. Credit: Judy Lash Balint.

Observant Jews mark the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot by carrying out some of the laws of mourning–one of these is the prohibition against cutting hair. As a result, barber and beauty shops are jammed with customers in the pre-Passover days.
Mailboxes overflow with appeals from a myriad of organizations helping the poor. Newspapers are replete with articles about altruistic Israelis who volunteer by the hundreds in the weeks before the holiday to collect, package and distribute Passover supplies to the needy.
In Jerusalem alone, more than 40 restaurants close a few days before Passover.  They clean out their kitchens, revamp their menus and open up with rabbinic supervision for the holiday to serve kosher-for-Passover meals to tourists as well as the hordes that are sick of cooking after the Seder.
Since most of the country is on vacation for the entire week of Passover, all kinds of entertainment and trips are on offer. The annual Boombamela beach festival, kid’s activities at the Bloomfield Science Museum, concerts in Hebron, explorations at the City of David, solidarity excursions to the Shomron and music festivals at the Dead Sea are all popular. The popular Hebrew Bananagram game has even invented a special Passover version with points for words in the Haggada.
The Passover theme of freedom and exodus in Israel even extends to criminals. Israel Radio announces that 700 prisoners will get a furlough to spend the holiday with family.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Israel’s fishmongers will sell 1,100 tons of carp, 80 tons of St. Peter’s fish and 300 tons of mullet this Passover season to satisfy the tastes of gefilte fish lovers, as well as the Moroccan-style chraime fish eaters.
In every ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, men and boys block the narrow streets with hand trucks piled high with sacks of carrots, potatoes and oranges and cartons of eggs—all courtesy of the Kimcha D’Pischa funds that funnel donations from abroad to Israeli Haredim.
At the entrance to many large supermarkets, teenagers hand out flyers listing suggested items generous shoppers may purchase to be placed in bins for distribution to needy families.
Israel’s chief rabbis sell the nation’s chametz to one Hussein Jabar, a Moslem Arab resident of Abu Ghosh. Estimated worth: $150 billion secured by a down payment of NIS 100,000. Jabar took over the task some 16 years ago, after the previous buyer, also from Abu Ghosh, was fired when it was discovered his maternal grandmother was Jewish.
At the Kotel, workers perform the twice-yearly ritual (pre-Passover and pre-Rosh Hashanah) of removing thousands of personal notes stuffed into the crevices of the Kotel, prior to burying them on the Mt. of Olives.
Finally, the end of Passover is marked by the festive Maimouna, a traditional holiday celebrated by North African Jews immediately following Passover.
In recent years, Maimouna has become a national day marked by music, eating sweets and pastries and political glad-handing before everyone heads back to work until the fast-approaching season of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.

After the seder: Delicious Passover recipes for every day
By Mollie Katzen/JNS.org

With more than 6 million books in print, Mollie Katzen is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time and has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.”
Here, Katzen offers some exciting vegetarian, pareve and dairy-based recipes to spice up your daily meals during the eight days of Passover. These recipes are all Passover-friendly (no leavened bread) and fit both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic cuisine traditions:

Asparagus-Feta Frittata
6 – 8 servings
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely minced onion
4 medium stalks asparagus, trimmed of the tough ends, peeled if desired, and sliced into thin (1/8-inch) diagonal coins
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon minced garlic
8 large eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces feta cheese

Place a 10-inch skillet with an ovenproof handle over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, wait about 10 seconds, then swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the asparagus, salt, tarragon, and garlic, cook for about 3 minutes or until the asparagus is tender-crisp and remove from the heat. Break the eggs into a large bowl, and beat well with a whisk. Add the sautéed vegetables, grind in some black pepper, crumble in the cheese and stir until blended. Clean and dry the skillet and return it to the stove over medium heat. Preheat the broiler. When the skillet is hot again, add the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, wait about 30 seconds, and swirl to coat the pan. Pour in the vegetable-egg mixture and let it cook undisturbed over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the eggs are set on the bottom. Transfer the skillet to the preheated broiler, and broil for about 3 minutes, or until the frittata is firm in the center. Remove the pan from the broiler, and run a rubber spatula around the edge to loosen the frittata. Slide or invert it onto a large, round plate, and serve hot, warm, or room temperature, cut into wedges.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
eggplantEggplant Cutlets
12 to 14 slices (2 to 3 per serving)
Use a big, chubby eggplant for nice round slices of burger dimensions. Choose an eggplant with tight, shiny skin and no wrinkles, soft spots or blemishes since you will not be peeling it (Eggplant peel is edible). You’re going to need to do this in batches so use two frying pans going and plan the timing accordingly. Serve on a bed of your favorite tomato sauce or roast some Roma tomatoes and use them as a sauce.
1 large eggplant (about 1 3/4 pounds), unpeeled
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon water
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil (possibly more,
as needed)

Herbs in the panko (Italian seasoning, or a combination of dried thyme and oregano, about 1/2 teaspoon each)
Up to 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese in the panko will make it crispier and more flavorful.

Slice off the eggplant top and bottom, and discard. Use a sharp knife to cut the eggplant crosswise into half-inch slices. You should end up with about 12 to 14 rounds. Break the eggs into a pie pan, then beat with a fork or small whisk, adding the teaspoon of water as you go. When the eggs become smooth, stop beating and set this aside.

Combine the matzo meal, salt and pepper on a dinner plate. Have a second dinner plate (or several) ready for the coated eggplant slices. (Also have some damp paper towels ready to wipe your hands, as needed.) One at a time, dip the eggplant slices into the egg, then let any excess egg drip off back into the bowl. Put each moistened round into the matzo meal mixture, pressing it down firmly, so the crumbs will adhere. Then turn it over, and press the second side into the crumbs until it becomes completely coated all over. Shake off any extra mixture, then transfer each coated slice to the other plate.

Place a large (10- to 12-inch) heavy skillet over medium heat and wait for about a minute. Pour in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Wait a little longer until the oil is hot enough to sizzle a dot of matzo meal on contact. Carefully transfer the coated eggplant slices (as many as will fit in a single layer) to the hot pan.

Cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Use a metal spatula to carefully loosen each piece, keeping its coating intact (you don’t want to lose any of it to the pan). Flip it over, and cook on the second side for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the coating is evenly golden all over, and the eggplant becomes fork-tender. (You might need to drizzle in additional olive oil as you go, if the pan seems dry.) Transfer the cooked slices to the cooling rack and repeat the cooking with the remaining slices.

Sinful Chocolate Cake
From Howard Meyrowitz of Bloomfield
1 stick of salted butter
1 3/4 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup cocoa, sifted
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup sugar
6 eggs

Butter well a 9”or 10” spring form pan.  Place water and sugar in top of double boiler and heat on medium until sugar dissolves.  Add eight oz. of chocolate chips to sugar mix and allow to melt. Remove from heat and add all the butter, stirring till it melts.  Add the cocoa to the mix and beat till smooth. Set aside.  In a clean bowl, beat the eggs with ¼ cup sugar till thick, creamy and triple in volume.  Fold in the chocolate mixture into the eggs and add the remaining 4 oz. of chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

Passover items from the Holocaust discovered at concentration camp site
(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) The Israel-based Shem Olam Holocaust and Faith Institute on Thursday showcased items that may have been used for Passover rituals at the Chelmno death camp in western Poland. The items were discovered during excavations of the site in pits containing prisoners’ belongings. One item is a worn out and partially torn Haggadah that was burned by the Nazis. Several portions dealing with the search for chametz (leavened bread) and other sentences managed to survive.
Shem Olam was founded in 1996 by Avraham Kreiger and is located in Kfar Haroeh, just north of Netanya. One of the institute’s projects deals with how Jews coped with the day-to-day struggles during the Holocaust.
“The Nazis told Jews who had been deported to Chelmno that they were being relocated to a village faraway in the east; they told them each person could bring only lightweight items with a combined weight of 3 to 4 kilograms (7 to 9 pounds),” Krieger said. “Because of the limited number of items they were allowed to carry, the Jews brought their most important items, but many brought with them things that belonged to their spiritual life and identity… The mere fact that they added these things shows that they were loyal to their faith, to the holiday and to tradition; they demonstrated that they did not let the Germans break their spirit.”
According to Krieger, “Most of the death camps had no such items left behind, but since Chelmno was the first death camp on Polish soil, the Nazis had yet to have at their disposal a sophisticated incineration apparatus and, consequently, some of the property was buried, and survived.”

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