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20 Ways You Know Passover Is Coming In Israel

Passover Israel is not for the faint hearted. This is serious business...

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1. Anyone who has not experienced Passover eve traffic jams in Israel has not experienced a true traffic jam. With almost 90 percent of the population taking part in a Seder and the entire country on vacation, traffic volumes are at their peak on erev Pesach.

2. Street scenes in Israel change every day before Passover according to what's halachically necessary: In the days before the holiday, yeshiva students 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 cutlery, kiddush cups and the like start to grow every day, and, at the last minute, blow torches are at the ready to cleanse every last gram of chametz from oven racks and stove tops lugged through the streets.

3. Organizations that pass out food boxes to needy families came in for sharp criticism this year as the Social Affairs Minister slammed the practice of making the poor line up to receive charity while TV cameras roll. He suggests passing out supermarket debit cards to preserve a modicum of dignity for those in need.

4. A pre-Seder seder organized at an immigrant Absorption Center caters to those experiencing their very first Pesach in Israel. Hundreds of Ethiopians, whose stories could make up a new exodus narrative, took part in the event. The last of those from Ethiopia with Jewish ancestry emigrated to Israel in the past few years.

5. Back in 2000, Israel's Brandman Research Institute found that 43 million people hours were spent nationwide in Israel's cleaning preparations for Passover. How did that break down back then? Of those cleaning hours, 29 million were done by women and 11 million by men. Persons paid to clean filled out the remaining 3 million hours. Anyone care to wager whether those proportions have equalized out in 2014?

6. Speaking of men and Pesach...A few years ago, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu issued a ruling that Viagra may be taken on Pesach provided the pill is encased in a special empty capsule so that the drug itself is not in direct contact with the body.

7. Need to stock up on household goods? Pre-Pesach is the time to do it, as stores compete to offer rock-bottom prices on dishes and cutlery. The 70 NIS price ($15) for a perfectly nice set of dishes for 6, kind of makes up for Israeli gas prices, which stand at an all-time high of almost $8 per gallon.

8. Bank Hapoalim, which like every bank in Israel charges a fee for every single transaction, redeems itself slightly on Passover by underwriting free entrance to 45 sites, museums and attractions throughout the country during the intermediate days of the holiday.

9. For some reason, it's become expected practice for companies to give their workers gifts on Passover (and Rosh Hashanah...) The Tovanot Market research firm found that some 1.5 million workers in Israel receive gifts from their employers at this time of year. Most generous is the Dead Sea Works whose workers get a check for NIS 1780 (about $510) + an iPad.

10. The array of activities in Jerusalem during Passover is truly astounding. Click here for a comprehensive listing.

11. The Israeli Army presses into service some 200 IDF chaplains including reservists, to commence the massive task of kashering the hundreds of kitchens, mess halls and eating corners used by soldiers all over the country.

12. No alarm clock needed here--the clanging garbage trucks do the trick as they roll through the neighborhood every morning during the two weeks before Pesach to accommodate all the refuse from the furious cleaning going on in every household. Two days before the Seder there's the annual pick-up of over-sized items and appliances. Dozens of antiquated computer monitors and old toaster ovens stand forlornly next to the garbage bins on their way to the dump.

13. The day before Passover, families replace the yeshiva students on the street, using empty lots to burn the remainder of their chametz gleaned from the previous night's meticulous search. In vain, the Jerusalem municipality sets up official chametz burning locations and issues strict orders banning burning in any other areas. Yeah, right!

14. Most flower shops stay open all night for the two days before Pesach, working feverishly to complete the orders that will grace the nation's Seder tables.

15. Merchants generally run out of heavy plastic used to cover counters early in the week before Pesach. In a panic, I make an early morning run to the Machane Yehuda market to successfully snap up a few meters of the handy counter-covering material.

16. 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.

Good luck if you haven't scheduled an appointment for a pre-Pesach/Omer haircut. You can't get in the door at most barber and beauty shops.

17. Mailboxes are full of Pesach appeals from the myriad of organizations helping the poor celebrate Pesach. Newspapers are replete with articles about selfless Israelis who volunteer by the hundreds in the weeks before the holiday to collect, package and distribute Pesach supplies to the needy.

18. Since most of the country is on vacation for the entire week of Pesach, all kinds of entertainment and trips are on offer. Ads appear for everything from 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 Sderot and music festivals at the Dead Sea.

19. Pesach, with its theme of freedom and exodus, always evokes news stories about recent olim. This year, general immigration numbers are significantly down, but aliya from France and Ukraine has enjoyed a mini-boom. For a couple of thousand new Israelis, it'll be their first Seder at home in Israel. Israel Radio announces that 700 prisoners will get a furlough to spend the holiday with family.

20. 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 20,000. 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.

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