Passover in Israel – or How Can I Cope Without My Crackers?

It is now Passover here in Israel. Like other Jewish holidays, I have heard of this particular holiday, known as Pesach in Hebrew. I believe back home in the U.S. it is marked in tiny print on calendars. When Pesach occurs in the States, I have never been remotely aware it is taking place. Now that I am in Israel, I cannot help but be accutely aware. Pesach, which celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt thousands of years ago, is a major week-long holiday here. I have learned the hands-on hard way that Passover is also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For one week Jews are not supposed to consume products with leaven. I assumed that this is not an issue for me because I’m not Jewish. I was incorrect.

It has never in my life occurred to me that I might be a leaven addict. I now know otherwise. Leaven is any agent that helps make dough rise. I learned of my addiction yesterday while attempting to purchase a very special brand of cracker I’ve become attached to at the little store I frequent in Tiberias. This was the first time I’d been inside a store since the onset of Passover.

Greeting me inside the door was the eerie sight of many, many aisles of food completely sealed off from top to bottom, left to right, with white plastic sheets tapes to the shelves. I walked around in amazement, wondering what was happening. Has something gone wrong with the items on the shelves, so they’re hiding them from the public? Are the shelves suddenly empty and they want to hide this fact from the public? I couldn’t imagine why there was almost no visible food in this store. After several minutes of seeing the few items that were available, such as green beans, yoghurt and toilet paper, it occurred to me that they must be “hiding” the products with leaven. I would have guessed that perhaps 20 percent of food is made with leaven. About 80 percent of that store was sealed off, though.

This was not good. I had come to this store specifically to buy the very special crackers I have quickly become attached to and eat every day with hummus or cheese. I don’t have a traditional diet, so yes, these are my meals. I live high atop a hill far outside downtown Tiberias, the journey to get to and from town is an epic hour. I don’t know where else to get my special crackers, and I wasn’t going to leave without them.

Crackers with hyssop, made with leaven and bought in Tiberias, Israel before Passover

I knew exactly where my crackers were located – on a middle shelf at the right end of the next-to-last aisle. I looked to make sure no one was watching, and reached my hand up inside the plastic sheeting, accidentally ripping off some of the tape. As the plastic slid slightly aside, I was relieved to see my crackers underneath. I grabbed a couple packages and headed for the checkout.

The lady at the cash register ran the few other items I was buying over the scanner. My crackers were last in line. She picked them up one by one, stretched over and placed my crackers on the customer service desk right next to her. Why? I asked. I want my crackers! Pesach, she said. I’m Christian, I almost shouted. I can eat them! We’re Jewish, she responded with a stern look. We can’t sell them.

Fortunately, I had some spare special crackers at home. Now, however, I am completely out. Tomorrow we are still in the midst of Passover in Israel. I’m going to have to find something suitable to eat, and it’s not going to be the crackers I have gotten so hooked on. Leaven is my life, I have realized, and I want it every day. Tomorrow I am going to go in search of a store that sells leavened products on Pesach. Surely there must be one in Tiberias. Perhaps not. If you can pronounce it, you might want to say behatzlacha to me. That means good luck in Hebrew.

What about you? Have you ever found your activities altered in any way by being in a foreign country during a holiday? Do tell.

15 Comments Post a Comment
  1. RyukyuMike says:

    Interesting. Guess next time around you’ll be stocking-up on crackers well in advance.
    I can’t think of anything like that happening to me except in Pennsylvania, years ago. That’s a foreign country, to me.
    They had some crazy law where you couldn’t buy beer on Sundays.
    So, everybody just bought kegs on Saturday to get them through the weekend!

  2. Alouise says:

    This was quite amusing. I didn’t realize that they couldn’t sell leavened products during Passover.
    Alouise recently posted..Road Trip Memories Week 5 – Everybody Must Get StonedMy Profile

  3. Wow….very trippy! I had no idea they’d be that strict about it and that they couldn’t even sell leavened products to non-Jews. Wild. I love how you ‘accidentally’ ripped the tape. Hilarious!

    I hope you can deal with it and hang on…. Behatzlacha!
    Lisa @chickybus recently posted..Trippy Travel Photos 5-10…Guess what and guess whereMy Profile

  4. Sabina says:

    If there is a next time. In Texas you couldn’t buy beer on Sundays until 12:00 noon. So hoardes of people would gather in convenience stores and grocery stores shortly before 12:00, stand poised in front of the refrigerated section where the beer was locked up, wait for the employee to unlock it when the clock struck 12:00, then head to the beach and party. It’s kind of comical, looking back on it.

  5. Sabina says:

    Gee, Alouise, neither did I. Today was the first day that I was able to buy leavened products again. Yet I ended up buying Kosher toothpaste “for Passover” it says on the tube. It was cheaper than the other toothpastes, so I went for it.

  6. Sabina says:

    I had no clue either. I actually did accidentally rip the tape, and I felt bad about it because they had obviously so painstakingly hidden and sealed all of this stuff. I can’t believe they’re so strict about it. That little shop I told you about last night on Twitter with the Christian Lebanese owner I think is the only place that would have let me buy the hidden products. Most of the people in this town are Jewish and I’m sure adhere to the rules.

  7. Steve says:

    I’ve always wondered what those holidays like Pesach that are written in fine print on calendars were. Sometimes, I even search through calendars just to find the ones I don’t know so I can look them up.

    I can’t believe they wouldn’t sell you the crackers though. Maybe it’s just religous habit to not sell or eat them. Hopefully you can get some though. Hummus without crackers is just not right.
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  8. Sabina says:

    Steve, I think it’s law, not habit. All other stores I went to had almost all of their shelves covered up too. Later, I asked some Christian neighbors of mine who have lived in Israel for several years if there was anywhere I could buy leavened products during Passover. They were doubtful I could get them anywhere, but cued me into a store nearby, owned by a Lebanese Christian man rather than a Jewish person. I walked down there, and his shelves were covered up too, but he saw I wanted what was underneath and indicated that I could lift up the covering and get something. I don’t understand much about Jewish holidays in Israel yet, but staying away from leavened products on Passover is clearly something that they take seriously.

  9. Claire says:

    Haha–did you ever imagine that one day you would be lamenting the lack of leaven in your life?

  10. claire says:

    Ps-Or trying to pilfer it for that matter??!! Good story :)
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  11. Sabina says:

    Haha – thanks, Claire. No, I never, ever imagined I might be coveting or pilfering leaven! Let me tell you, if I am here next year during Passover, I’ll be stocking up on leaven ahead of time. I had no clue.

  12. methuselah says:

    excuse me: passoveris which one day?

  13. Sabina says:

    I’m not sure that it’s one day. In Israel they celebrate it for eight.

  14. Maya says:

    I am loving reading about your Israeli adventures! I have been traveling to Israel my entire life and have lived there for a year as well. If you were in Tel Aviv over Pesach you would have had no issues buying your delicious crackers, as many don’t follow the religious laws there.
    Did you try replacing the crackers with matza?

    Very refreshing to read so much positivity about this amazingly beautiful and special country.

  15. Sabina says:

    Hi, Maya! Yes, I thought maybe in other parts of the country they weren’t so strict. Thanks for clearing that up! I did try matza, which was actually not so bad. I’m back to my special crackers, now, though :)

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