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PASSOVER in Israel is a magical time of year. The winter rains and chilly air are replaced by a flurry of activity and sense of renewal that is unequal to any other season. Flaming poppies, black-eyed Susans and Queen Annes lace fill the fields while birds travel back to the Hula Valley to build their nests.
In the north the Banias River, swollen with winter rains, tempts even the most timid nature lover to take off her shoes and socks and feel the springtime mud squish between her toes.
But it is not just winter waking up to spring that intrigues me. It is the transition of a country moving from chametz to matzah, a country in the process of cleansing itself that makes me marvel at the power of Jewish tradition and faith.
On the eve of Passover during the year I lived in Israel, I walked with my husband more than three miles from our apartment in Bakka to Meah Shearim, Jerusalems famous Orthodox neighborhood. The city was working double time to get itself ready for Passover and Shabbat, which fell on the first seder night.
The clanging of pots and dishes resonated as restaurants and bakeries frantically labored to convert their kitchens for Passover. A symphony of sounds accompanied us as we moved through the streets. People laughing, babies crying, closet doors banging, horns blasting; the air was charged with energy and purpose.
But the smell was what got to me.
The dense smell of the last vestiges of burning bread products hovered over us like a cloud, reminding me of fall in New Jersey when we would burn big piles of leaves in our driveway.
Huge cauldrons of boiling water lined Strauss Street, enabling people to kasher their pans and utensils for the holiday.
I thought of our tiny Jerusalem kitchen and how, earlier in the morning, my family and I had spent hours soaping down the counter tops and washing out the cabinets.
We felt so clean and tidy afterwards, all spic and span as my mother would say.
There was something deeply gratifying about the process of cleaning up our home, as if we had lined our nest with downy, new feathers. We put our house in order, just as the seder creates an order to the telling of the Passover story.
As we walked home along King George Street, we watched the city in its closing moments of cleansing; a community making its way from winter to spring, dark to light, chametz to matzah. The streets were hushed; the smells of burning bread and cake all but gone.
I UNDERSTOOD for the first time the longing that has dominated the Jewish heart, mind and spirit throughout Jewish history. Passover is not just a time to cleanse our kitchen cabinets of last years cookie crumbs and crackers. Next year in Jerusalem is not just a physical call to bring people from all over the globe to the most holy city in the world.
It is a call to encourage and inspire all Jews, as diverse, conflicted and divided as we may sometimes seem, to work together to bring a sense of order and renewal, a sense of purpose and hope to our lives, our future and the world.
Rosh Hashanah may be the holiday of self-reflection and evaluation and Yom Kippur the time for atonement and repentance, but Passover is the holiday of hope and freedom.
It is a time to retell the Jewish narrative of our Exodus from slavery to freedom and a chance to renew our commitment to our faith, tradition, and each other to live a life of purpose, dignity and self-determination.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News