Passover, or Pessach as it is known in Hebrew, is probably the biggest and most celebrated of all Jewish holidays. It’s not quite on the same scale commercially as Christmas, but spiritually and religiously, it may just surpass the holiest day in the Christian calendar.
In my many years here (20+), I’ve experienced many Passovers, usually in the form of the big family meal on the first evening of the holiday, known as the seder. This meal launches the holiday and is usually attended by many family members (depending, of course, on the size of the family). Me, I’ve nearly always had a very full house of family members (often 60+) upon which to practice my Hebrew and drinking skills with alcoholic uncles.
Of course, preparation is everything, and preparing for Pessach is a humdinger. Jewish law prohibits the eating, owning or even presence of hametz (which is either a grain product that is already fermented, such as yeast breads, cake, and most alcoholic drinks, or a substance that can cause fermentation, such as yeast) in the house during the holiday, which means one heck of a spring clean to get rid of all those breadcrumbs. Sales of cleaning products naturally go through the roof in March and April. Finding a cleaner to help out during this period is nigh on impossible.
So, if there’s no hametz (no bread, no cakes, no pasta etc), what is there to eat? Well, apart from some great meat dishes, the staple food of the Pessach holiday is matza bread (unleavened bread, which represents the Hebrews’ rapid exodus from Egypt and their lack of time to cook proper bread).
This is a cracker-like bread, which is often soaked in water for a few seconds before being wrapped in a cloth. Only then can you really make any use of it. Tastes great with Nutella chocolate spread (but it’s always a dilemma – do you go with Nutella or the Israeli made HaShachar?), or shredded into an omelet, or you could try some local, handed-down-through-the-generations dishes such as ftoot, which I’m still trying to fathom out what it is exactly, but it appears to be a mix of milk, eggs and matza bread, sugar added as required. Only for the brave.
The Pessach holiday lasts for a week. Kids are off from school for something like 2-3 weeks and many businesses close down for the whole week, especially cafes, pubs and restaurants. But don’t worry, there are still many places to eat out, and many non-kosher places that’ll happily sell contraband to keep their tourist customers happy.
A couple of good Passover/Pessach resources: