Basia Monka

Basia Monka – Ma Nishtana?… Dry or wet matza – what do you eat on Pesach?

Basia Monka – Ma Nishtana?… Dry or wet matza – what do you eat on Pesach?

“- It’s hot!” – said a guy on the beach.
“- What do you complain!? It was like that for forty years on the desert…” – answered a girl in bikini.
I overheard it last week on the beach, when the summer suddenly appeared for a day and half of Tel Aviv left their clothes at home and came to the sea.  I was really inspired by that short conversation. The spirit of Pesach, the story of liberation was in the underconscience of that young Israeli girl in the bikini on the beach.

Why is it so impressive in Israel? Although you can see on the food products ‘kosher le Pesach’ and it will be hard for you to get some bread unless you will go to Arab areas in Israel; shops are having Passover sales, but it doesn’t say that every Israeli really observes Pesach, as one might think.

Most of them will have a family dinner, read the ‘Haggada’ (maybe even till the end), have  traditional four glasses of wine, will give Pesach presents (unlike Diaspora, not Chanukah but Pesach is the customary time for presents). But that’s all about it.
Pesach, Passover – when you live in Diaspora, you know what to expect when it comes to that Holiday, but when you come to Israel, suddenly it is not so obvious how your Holiday will look.

I must say I love Pesach, the Holiday of Freedom, I love the night (two nights if you are in Diaspora) of Seder – the Pesach dinner where everything is organized for thousands of years. And when Jews read the ‘Haggada’ (HA – the story of leaving Egypt, unlike any ‘agada’ a story or fairy tale) and read it for long hours before starting to the eat the dinner. That anticipation helps to feel the struggle of the journey… I love when around the table people are holding different editions of ‘Haggada’, from different centuries, with commentaries of various rabbis. When you lean to your side to have the wine, like Jews did in the old days, but also like the ancient Greek – during the Symposium. They were lying down on one side. It was a symbol of luxury and freedom. The taste of ancient world experienced in our modern homes.

The idea of freedom, historical and personal, when we leave Egypt, each year once again…

I also appreciate the week of different food, that makes me think of different conditions of life. But surprisingly it’s not that different when you come to Israel. At the Pesach table, your orthodox friends will say “this schnitzel (one of the favorite dishes in Israel) is just like normal”; you can see a Jewish orthodox man walking in with a box off pizza in the old city of Jerusalem. Shocking! The pizza is made from the potato starch…, but still!

“Ma nishtana”? Jewish kids, all over the world are asking those questions on the first night of Pesach: “Ma nishtana ha layla ha zeh mi kol ha laylot?” – what makes different this night from all other nights? What is different about Pesach if we make food appear as normal everyday cuisine?

Besides, what if you are not Ashkenazi? Matza and potatoes are the main products on Pesach for me or any Ashkenazy Jew living abroad, but then you come to Israel… The Sephardic or even more the Mizrahi (Iraqi, Parsi – from Iran or Turkish) way of celebrating is dominant here. “How can you survive Pesach, without rice?” – are asking me Israeli friends, when I say I am Ashkenazi and I don’t eat “kitniyot” – corn, rice, beans… humus. They ask me also how I cannot have humus on Pesach and I ask how they can? Apparently on Pesach there are various influences of the countries of origin that are seen in the way of celebration.
Three years ago, I started Pesach with orthodox Seder in religious city of Bet Shemesh, ended with showing the Old City of Jerusalem to my Russian friend, who immigrated to Israel, but had no connection to Judaism at all.

In the days in-between, bonus of a long Holiday – many options, I visited South Tel Aviv. At the home I was staying there was no matza, to my surprise. In the restaurant I was given matza… wet, splashed with water. I thought what a bad restaurant it was, how could they serve matza like that?!

Later on I learnt this is the way most of Israelis eat matza – wet!

Of course, unless they are orthodox coming from Chassidic homes, where ‘gebrehos’ – wet matza is forbidden at all. So their case, chicken soup is without matzo balls and the Pesach breakfast without the “matza brei”. How one can celebrate Pesach without that? Those are my tastes of Pesach, at least…
Food, is important. Food is part of tradition that kept us through the centuries and helped us not the forget about the long way to freedom. But whether you will eat dry or wet matza, really it is important, why you eat it at all …

In few hours I will sit with my cousins in the kibbutz ‘heder ohel’ – the dining room, the ‘Haggada’ will have some local adjustments, the Seder will not be the way I have learnt it to be. But it will be Seder of Joy, with songs, kind of like in a musical to me. The strongest part when “we will cross the Red Sea” – all the grandpas will walk across the room holding their grandchildren’s hands, walking to the freedom. And the Moses’ “Let my people go!” , will actually turn into: Let my people STAY… We are home.
Two days ago, I was hiking in the desert. Almost 10 kilometers in the sun just before Pesach, thinking of those who spent forty years there, left their houses, the slavery in Egypt, to wander to unknown Promised Land. Let have the courage to leave our personal slaveries… And Enjoy! Pesach sameach! Happy Passover!



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