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Jerusalem, Before Passover

I went to the shuk this morning to get my carp for the gefilte fish that no Passover can be without. Although I left home early, I still expected to wait on a crowded line behind nine or ten other harried housewives. The Thursday morning before any holiday is a madhouse in Mahane Yehuda. To my surprise, I was the only person there. I was delighted, of course, but a bit worried too. What’s going on? I asked Rahamim, the fish man. I expected to wait at least a half hour. He shrugged. It was a combination of things, he said. First, the light rail transit system that is supposed to sleekly bring Jerusalem’s public transport  into the future, but which has not yet started running, has made it close to impossible to get to the shuk, as buses that would sail down the main street, Jaffa Road, have all been re-routed. In addition, many people just don’t have the money to spend they once did, when banks gave generous overdrafts, and jobs were plentiful.

Still, the shuk was far from empty. The stalls selling traditional peanut and coconut pesach cookies were overflowing with stock. And the man with the pita stand was explaining to a customer that she wouldn’t get a cheaper price on pita bread anywhere in Israel. Many stores already had signs up asking customers not to bring in any leavened bread as the store was already kosher for Passover.

But, what can I say, it was awfully quiet considering. The entire length of Jaffa Road, empty of all cars and buses in anticipation of the train that’s been postponed until August, seemed eerily silent. On the newsstands, headlines scream about new criminal proceedings started against Avigdor Leiberman, or Bibi Netanyahu’s announced plans to sue TV Channel 10 for libelous comments (I hope he wins! They are dreks.). On the middle pages, we read about the struggle of 16 year-old Daniel (we all pray for his recovery) who is fighting for his life after a school bus he was riding was hit by a Hamas missile from Gaza. This or that commentator points out that a full-out war with Hamas is just a matter of time.

With all these things hanging over our heads, Israelis are still buying their matza, preparing their fish, and getting ready to host or be hosted. There is a subdued mood nationwide, more families than ever depending on charitable donations to fill their seder plates, a feeling of girding our loins for the next terror ship from Turkey, the next round of missiles, that next blood libel. But what is beautiful about the Israeli people is that they can do it all: plan, worry, celebrate, prepare, rejoice, give, take, and never miss a beat, because Israelis are alive, and each day the country, and its people, move forward with strength and hope, full of fears, yet fearlessly.

Happy Passover. Next Year in Jerusalem.

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22 comments on “Jerusalem, Before Passover”

  1. lynne elster

    there is not a book that you have written that have not read,,,,,,,,,,I just wish you could write then faster,,,,,I am leaving for Isreal mid May to volunteer on an army base,,,,,,I was in Israel last April on a five star experience which was great but after that I decided my next trip even for three weeks was to give back……….it is funny I decided before I read the Tenth Song,,,,,,,,,,,,what a truly great story definitely based on so much truth,,,,,,,,,thank you for putting history ([past and present) in a way that all should understand…….you also gave strength to people who were afraid to think for themselves a “shot”.
    I wish you and yours a Happy Passover,,,,,,,Lynne Elster

  2. Carol Eberwein

    Thank you for sharing daily Israeli
    life with me.It brings me to tears
    of longing for my Israeli family
    and life.
    Hag Sameach

  3. Shoshana

    Hi Naomi,

    Thank you for your uplifting words – sadness and happiness mixed together with the strength of the Jewish people. As is so often said, ‘Living in Israel is hard but good’.
    May you and your family have a Happy Pesach.
    Shoshana Kent

  4. Keren

    Dear Naomi,
    May Hashem grant you and yours a blessed and peaceful Pesach. Your article is very uplifting. My husband and I are making our ‘pilot trip’ G-d willing in late May to mid June. We are happy, excited, and apprehensive all at the same time.
    I think sometimes to myself how at 55 can I pack up and move away from all of my family and friends and start a new life? I know it won’t be easy, and I sure will miss my children and my almost 4 yr. old grandson. But I know we are doing the right thing. Just being able to celebrate holidays like Pesach the way they are meant to be, is worth it. And when people ask me how I can move to such a dangerous place, well I tell them that when I was there in 2005 I felt safe and had a wonderful time in Netanya (which is where we rented a small house)and everywhere else we travelled while there.
    Your words have reminded me that as Jewish mother and wife, I can do this, because thousands of other Jewish families have done it and continue to do it every day! We can do it because Israel is Hashem’s land and we are His people. We don’t do it with our own power we live under the protective shade of the Almighty, He gives us the strength we need to live in Eretz HaKadosh from day to day.
    G-d willing when we finally arrive with our bags in hand to stay for good, that is how it will be for us too.
    So thank you for your thoughts and your encouragement too.
    Chag Sameach Pesach!
    Keren & Ilan

  5. Irmgard Gesund

    Dear Naomi,

    As so many of your other correspondents have said, thankyou for your wonderful words–both comforting and uplifting. They are comforting to us, because we feel such pain at the unjust treatment and threats all Israel is enduring. You acknowledge these same feelings yet are somehow able to absorb what to us is so terrifying. Your words are uplifting because they help us to reaffirm our own faith and courage.

    Please keep your posts coming. They mean so much.
    With every wish to you for a time of family joy this Pesah.
    Irmgard Gesund

  6. Dick

    Even when your sad, or worried you make Jerusalem and it’s people so beautiful.

    Wish I was there.

  7. Steven Bernstein

    Dear Ms. Ragen,

    Thanks very much for this wonderful article. I visited Mahane
    Yehuda market a number of times when I was in Jerusalem last year; but it’s hard to picture with just a few people. But no trouble picturing Jaffa Street empty–as it is that way on Shabbat, every week. Your words and books are truly memorable.

    Chag Sameach,

    Steven Bernstein

  8. Donald Scharoff

    Shalom Naomi,

    As usual your way with words, combined with a unique sense of spirit, has produced a vivid picture for all of us to behold. I wish you and your family and indeed all my Israeli brothers and sisters Chag Sameach L’Pesach.

  9. Lynn Sharon

    Nostalgia with every word. I can still feel the energy and excitement of Mahane Yehuda before every holiday; the aroma, the frenzy; the music of the shouts spelling out the metziot. You brought it all back to me. But even here in the Israel boondocks, there is a unique sense of urgency as my neighbors sponja every nook and cranny of their modest homes. Hag Sameach my dear Naomi!

  10. Bonnie Eizikovitz

    Naomi, Kol Hakavod to you and all of Israel for carrying on, for your stoic, no nonsense approach to life. I pray that one day, yes, the world will wake up from its dream that Israel is the enemy, not the victim. When we say at the seder, “ella, she’b’chol dor va’dor, omdim aleinu l’chaloteinu”, we’re not kidding. Chag Kasher v’Sameach-enjoy a blessed holiday with your dear family.

  11. Victor Hayim Tordjman

    Dear Naomi Ragen,
    I don’t usually reply to articles. But then you are quite different. For the last , what?twenty years I ahev been reading faithfully, almost religiously every one of your pages. From all I read you are Datia if not outspokenly Haredit, but your outlook and language are of a positive Hilonit, steeped in solid Jewish tradition. You have a great “z’chuss” with me: you keep the little flame alive, the “Ner Tamid” which is the symbol of what we Jews are here for: the hope and faith of mankind! May He who leads us all give you many more years of blessed creativity and may you rejoice in a wonderful Kosher and Joyous Pessah which will help to obliterate the sad memories of that Pessah at the Plaza Hotel in Nethanya.
    Le Shana Habaa biYerushalayim habenuya le talpiot !
    Yours with admiration
    Vitor Hayim Tordjman ,Herzlia


    Let us pray for Jerusalem to flourish until everyone recognizes Hashem is one & his name is one!

  13. Lois Graber

    Dear Naomi,
    Thank you for your wonderful and comforting words. I’m so tired of telling everyone I know not to be afraid to go to Israel. I’ve been there many times and have never been afraid. I figure whatever happens to my people will also happen to me, so I leave it in G-d’s hands. My grandson served in the IDF as a lone soldier and is now working and living in Tel Aviv. When I visited him on base I realized that all our soldiers were my children. May G-d bless our people and our homeland Israel.
    Hag Sameach, Lois

  14. Naomi Romm

    Thank you dear Naomi for capturing the spirit of Pesach in Israel. We are truly a resilient people with an abiding faith in a merciful G-d who will never abandon us. May we all be zocher to have our next year and all the years after in Jerusalem.

  15. Mickey Oberman


    Thank you for your wonderful, uplifting letter.

    Sitting safely at my desk in Toronto makes me feel rather guilty but at 78 I wouldn’t be of much use as I was in 1991 when I was a mere 58 and volunteered with Sar El.

    I wish you and all of Israel Hag Sameach.
    Have a very Happy Pesach.

    Mickey Oberman

  16. MeraLee

    Hi Naomi!

    I’ve recently been traveling in S. Afrca, and then in Cost Rica for the Bat Mitzvah of my granddaughter, Phoebe. There is a charming small synagogue in San Jose–80 families in the congregation, from around the world—-some retired there, some with young children in the school. There are two Rabbis–husband and wife—Phoebe “skypped” with them before arriving in Costa Rica. Lovely service—she did beautifully—warm, friendly congregation welcomed the 11 of our family—-and then we did a family “ecology” trip to the jungle. For a while now, I have been dealing with awful arm pain—trying physical therapy and acupuncture to avoid surgery—most difficult thing is how tiring constant pain can be. But—it’s time to bake the Passover cakes and cookie—and to help my youngest daughter, Tami, cook for the Seder on Monday. Saved “best for last”—EXCITING NEWS: TAMI IS PREGNANT—due in September. Lots of Love, MeraLee

  17. Brian Israelstam

    Dear Naomi,
    As usual, your words are magic. Especially your last sentence. Hopefully, one day this upside-down world will wake up and see us (Israel and Israelis) for who we really are. Alive and hopeful. Survivors against all odds.
    May you and your family and friends have a happy Passover.
    חג שמח
    Kindly Yours

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