Saturday, April 19, 2008

Musings About Living in Israel

This evening begins the Jewish festival of Pessach. We call this Passover in the US. It commemorates the 10 plagues unleashed on Egypt by the god of the Hebrews at the request of Moses (played most famously by Charlton Heston, who might have been better served by playing Jesus as he has recently had his rifle pried from his cold, dead hands), and the subsequent release of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage.

Pessach is a time for cleaning, which, technically, should be done before Shabbat begins every Friday night, but, I have discovered, is most definitely NOT. I've wondered whether or not their god commanded them to clean up before Shabbat and definitely before Pessach because without some godly threats, they would never clean up at all. As it is, and I use my neighbor as my example, but the anecdote is confirmed to be common among Israelis by many of our Israeli friends, cleaning up seems to mean gathering up all the rotted food and trash from inside the house and putting it outside the house for local stray dogs and cats to scatter all over everyone's sidewalks and courtyards. For a group obsessed with ritual cleanliness (some, not all, of course), observant Israelis seem decidedly uncaring about basic sanitation and prevention of disease.

I suppose that as a people, the Israelis have a difficult time thinking about how irresponsible and generally disgusting their trash scattering, lack of support for recycling, and general unawareness of how sad it is to walk into an otherwise pristine park or forest area, only to see empty food cans, rotted leftover sandwiches, and plastic bottles strewn all over, appears to outsiders, even fellow Jews who've made aliya. Jews who've grown up here have always had enough possibilities of destruction hanging over their heads that living for today with no thought at all for tomorrow seems to be the norm.

One of Nigel's co-workers has opined that she is embarrassed that the Israeli people just will not think about how much could be done to make Israel a more beautiful place by actually taking care of things and keeping things clean and looking nice. When Nigel informed another of his coworkers that I am having to go out every morning with rubber gloves on to clean up the rotting vegetables and dirty diapers that have been dragged all over our steps and in our back area where we walk our dog, she said, "Welcome to Israel."

One of the most important aspects of Pessach is that leavened products, such as bread, beer, and, I found out today in the newspaper, cigars and cigarettes may not be consumed or even kept in the houses of observant Jews. There are burning ceremonies all over, in which crumbs and leftover bread products are burned in a ritualistic way. Also, to make fun for the children, before the beginning of Pessach, house lights are turned off and candles are taken around each corner and crack of the house to find any leavened bread crumbs left within. The children have feathers with which they sweep up anything that looks suspicious.

This sounds cute and fun, and probably is. However, a recent story in the local news points to another episode of deadly carelessness tied specifically to this religious festival. I can't link to it because it's not free, but several kindergarten children were burned, a couple of them quite badly, during a lesson about burning hametz. Why anyone would think it an appropriate lesson for kindergarteners, I don't know. It's not as though they would have no adults to do the burning for them, and it's not as though just a description of the burning without the, apparently literal, hands-on demonstration would have been quite suitable.

There is much controversy within Israel, especially between the observant and the secular Jews, as to whether or not it should be permitted to buy bread and other hametz (leavened) products during Pessach week. Recently, the courts ruled that the law prohibiting public display of hametz did not preclude its sale as long as it was not out in the open where observant Jews could see it. A huge uproar came from the harid and orthodox communities claiming that it would be the end of Judaism. Today, an article in the Jerusalem Post stated that orthodox rabbis, who have been trying unsuccessfully for years to convince their observant flocks to stop smoking, have declared cigars and cigarettes hametz. Interesting that it hasn't been declared so before now.

All this being said, I still love it here. It is very pretty from our balcony, I'm learning my way around quite well, and we have enough secular friends that we don't generally have to directly deal with threats from the more extreme members of Israeli society.

That's all for today! More ranting at another time. I will discuss the newspaper's article about the possibility of "hametz violence" during Pessach.

No comments: