Is Passover Really a Festival of Freedom?

After Tel Aviv showed me that lemon is not kosher for Passover, I thought Jerusalem couldn’t surprise me. I was wrong.

I got it into my head to make lemon ice on Passover eve. Among the items needed to make it was Prigat frozen lemon concentrate. Holiday coupons in hand, I set off for the nearest supermarket. Very few people were in the store and most of the shelves were hidden behind large swaths of paper. My rabbinical knowledge is admittedly quite limited, but I was still pretty confident about the lemon concentrate. To the best of my knowledge, the lemon is a citrus fruit and so, therefore, while hamutz ‏(sour‏) it is not hametz ‏(not kosher for Passover‏). But not everybody thinks so, apparently.

“I can’t sell you the juice,” the guy who seemed to be in charge at the supermarket told me. “It’s not kosher for Passover, and so the code was erased and it won’t go through the scanner.”

Neri Livneh - Avi Ofer - April 20, 2012

All right, I thought, so that’s a kosher supermarket. I’ll just head over to the convenience store that belongs to a chain which in most cases is also open on Shabbat. But there, too, most of the shelves were covered. I asked one of the workers where I could find the juice, but he told me they wouldn’t have it in stock throughout Passover, because it wasn’t kosher. At the natural food store, I was harshly scolded when I tried to peek under the paper that covered the shelf where I thought I’d find rice cakes. The scolder was clearly not a Hebrew speaker and couldn’t manage to explain to me why it was off-limits.

“So this is what is lacking for you to be happy − frozen lemon juice?” the radio talk-show host asked me during an interview, in a voice dripping with honey. In vain I tried to explain that what bothered me was the whole system of kashrut authorization that forced me to buy kosher-for-Passover toilet paper.

But the interviewer, renowned for being completely balanced − i.e., devoid of any shred of humor or daring − somehow decided that this was a joking matter. I was so annoyed that privately I wished he would be forced to eat kosher-for-Passover food the whole year round.

But that didn’t stop me from traveling, for family and other social reasons, to the eye of the storm − to Jerusalem − above which a giant cloud of matza dust seems to hover on the holiday, although there are still some places open where it’s pleasant to sit.

On the way there, on the bus, I read a front-page article about the complaints of passengers on the city’s light rail train system, about brusque treatment by conductors who have no sympathy for anyone who isn’t able to get the ticket machines to work properly. With some trepidation, I approached such a machine. The light rail management had evidently read the article, too, and so next to the machine they’d stationed an inspector – sporting a name tag – whose job was to block passengers from direct access to the machine. Instead of each person inserting coins in the slot, the inspector took the money and bought the ticket for them. Such a brilliant idea! It’s incredible that no one thought of it sooner. Because if they thought just one step ahead, the light rail management would find that they could just do away with the ticket machines altogether and replace them with manned booths with long lines snaking up to them. Then it wouldn’t be long before they realized that the train uses too much electricity and Jaffa Road could be returned to its original form. Maybe they could even install a rickshaw service there.

“How many tickets do you want?” the ticket buyer asked me. I asked for two, and handed him a NIS 20 bill. A woman next to me asked for one ticket and handed him a NIS 100 bill. Another man asked for two tickets and handed the guy a NIS 50 bill; another gave him a NIS 10 coin to buy one NIS 6.60 ticket.

The man gave us our tickets but then the train came and he hadn’t managed to distribute the change yet, since that would require a head for arithmetic. If you were wondering, the ticket buyer in this case was not somebody who had abandoned a doctoral track in mathematics or even taken a course in basic accounting.
And so it happened that I received change for a 50 instead of a 20, but I didn’t notice because I was rushing to get on the train. Having read in the newspaper about conductors who chase after people who’ve forgotten to validate their ticket in the machine inside the car, I immediately made my way toward it. There, too, because people had read the same story, stood a fellow tasked with preventing free access to the validation machine. As a service to the suffering public, he would take the tickets from the hands of their purchasers, feed them into the slot and then return them to the passengers. He took mine − or rather yanked the two tickets out of my hand and stuck one in the machine. Only because I yelped in protest did he stop short of validating the other one, which was for the way back.

“Why do you want to charge me for two trips?” I fumed. And he said: “How am I supposed to know how many people you are?”

“You’re right, I really overdid it with the food at the seder,” I retorted. “But why so insulting? Are you trying to tell me that I’m fat?”

And then, for the sake of the very sympathetic audience that surrounded me, I added another comment − well, more of a rhetorical question about the low IQ evidently required for anyone wishing to apply for the almighty position of conductor on the Jerusalem light rail.

“I could sue you for slander, libel and insulting a public worker,” said the employee.
“Go for it,” I urged him, but suddenly I felt just as condescending and irritating as a certain radio interviewer.

I thought of washing my mouth out with a little bleach, but it was impossible to get hold of any that wasn’t kosher for Passover.