Word of the Day / Mangal

If the seder is about a long, structured meal inside, the rest of Passover is about embracing fresh air and fanning the flames of freedom and BBQs.

Shoshana Kordova
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Come on, baby, light my fire.Credit: Dan Peretz
Shoshana Kordova

If the global byword for seder night is matza, the Israeli byword for the rest of Passover may be mangal (MAHN-gahl) or al ha'esh (AHL ha-eish), both of which mean "barbecue."

Judaism's two weeklong biblically mandated holidays, Passover and Sukkot, are bookended by ritual meals. The days in between are known as hol hamo'ed, which combines the words for "weekday" (hol) with the word for "holiday" (mo'ed) – they're part of the holiday but under Jewish law are not marked by the restrictions or festive meals that characterize the first and last days.

After having their fill of chicken soup at the seder, tens of thousands of Israelis have been celebrating hol hamo'ed this year, as every year, by eating barbecued meat grilled on a portable mangal.

It's an Israeli tradition to head out to one of the country's national parks on these holidays (as well as on the upcoming Independence Day), when school is out and many workplaces are closed. In these parts, a walk in the park isn't complete unless accompanied by chicken- and hamburger-scented smoke.

Mangal, which can refer both to the actual grill and to the barbecue event itself, originates from the Arabic word mankal, which came into the Hebrew language via Turkish. Al ha'esh is a Hebrew synonym, but refers only to the event, not the grill. It literally means "on the fire," but functions as a noun phrase in this context ("Do you want to come to an al ha'esh with us tomorrow?").

Some Israelis indulge in a well-earned mangal (or its shadow, a mere fireless picnic) after a hunger-inducing hike, while for others the al ha'esh is the main event, which often takes place as close as possible to the parking lot. What never ceases to amaze me is that some celebrants don't even wait to get out of the parking lot – or, in some cases, off the traffic island – before launching into lunch, choosing to rake their meat over the coals without quite reaching the nature to which they had just driven. I can only guess those are the families that are so fired up for a mangal they just can't wait a few extra minutes to get their "on the fire" started.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.