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.