For Jews everywhere including in Israel, Pesach (Passover) is a unifying holiday. Jews of all strides celebrate it, from atheists to ultra-orthodox, albeit with significant differences of style and length. As in most important events, the events with the most impact, at least emotionally, are before the actual occasion. The week before Pesach is a curious play on the words said on Pesach eve: עבדים היינו [avadim hahnhnu] , once we were slaves:
Grocery store employees spend hours rearranging shelves and putting paper over the sections with foods that are חמץ [hametz], forbidden to eat during Pesach.
Women spend a whole week doing a comprehensive spring cleaning of the house while trying to keep up on their other chores and of course, go to work.
Family members spend hours waiting in line in stores to buy the various items required for the Pesach meal. The most dreaded sound is that last call on the morning of the Pesach when “she” suddenly remembers that some vital product is missing or discovers that she ran out of something. Husbands now have no excuses to postpone household repairs. The dreaded day to tackle the long list of minor but time-consuming maintenance tasks has arrived. Cleaning the house suddenly seems quite attractive.
The females have the standard issue of deciding and maybe purchasing new clothing for the holiday. At least half of the population will understand how stressful that can be. Religious Jews that can afford it buy clothes for the entire family. Now that is an interesting family activity.
Generational arguments break out regarding the mythical quality of the grandmother’s cleaning and/or cooking, the choice to serve any of those ethnically-allowed foods such as rice and, often the most destructive, with whom the married son or daughter will spend the first night, with us or them, the in-laws (who have no idea how to properly make gefilte fish).
Everybody gets to complain about the weather. If it is cold, it doesn’t feel like the spring. If it rains, it makes it impossible to put the furniture in the garden when cleaning. If it is windy, it redistributes the dust that you just supposedly cleaned. If it is nice, you complain about what you would rather be doing on such a beautiful day. Successful bitching is guaranteed.
The people working in retail not only put extra hours to meet the exaggerated demands of the Israeli consumer but are expected to prepare a proper Pesach and smile that evening.
Even those who are so fortunate to go to someone else’s house have the difficult task of finding an appropriate gift. Of course, you cannot arrive with empty hands. The pleasure begins even before you arrive because finding a parking spot at a shopping mall can be finding a needle in the haystack. Once you do, you have to think of a gift that the host does not have too many of already, would be appreciated and costs the appropriate amount.
The fun reaches its peak in the hours before the Sedar. The whole family gets to participate in the great shower wars, involving how much hot water each member of the family uses, obviously at the expense of the others. Then, for those who are travelling, the whole happy family gets into the car and joins the countless others in a giant traffic jam, everybody hoping to the Sedar on time.
However, once the first cup of wine is drunk, all that is forgotten. People smile and say חג שמח וכשר [hag sameach ve kasher], a happy and kosher holiday. It was all worth it.