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Ilana Teitelbaum

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Passover Memories in Jerusalem

Posted: 04/14/09 06:45 AM ET

It's day 6 and my body hates me.

There are people who claim they eat more healthfully on Passover because you're pretty much forced to cook instead of eating processed foods. But I don't know what those people are cooking -- my favorite cooked meals are off-limits.

To me, Passover means matzah in various forms -- matzah brye (fried with egg), matzah cereal (crumbled with sugar, cinnamon and milk -- very exciting when I was three) and matzah sandwiches (tuna or haroset). And matzah has this rather less than healthy habit of sitting in my stomach without digesting, while simultaneously making me feel as if I haven't eaten anything. So I keep eating matzah. And I don't feel any less hungry, but I do feel as if my body is on the verge of going on strike.

But for some reason, a holiday time seems to capture memories in a more powerful way than any other time of the year, and gives more significance to holidays as time goes on than they would otherwise have. What do I mean by this? I mean that when I think of Passover, I still think of being eighteen and washing down the windows in my parents' Jerusalem apartment, the acrid smell of Windex in my nostrils, listening to music and daydreaming about the boy that I wasn't supposed to be dating.

I remember taking a bus from the Old City during Passover of that year. It was after I had prayed for a long time, my forehead pressed to the cool stones of the Western Wall. I believed then, utterly, in the mystical forces of the place. Even now, it's impossible to ignore the energy that seems to surround the Western Wall -- whether it is simply the accumulated forces of history, or something more.

And the bus. It's a bus that I hate these days and would never take -- the number two bus, which in recent years has been informally segregated by gender and therefore represents what I believe to be worst of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. But more than a decade ago those tensions had not arisen yet, and the bus was indiscriminately packed with people of all genders, ages and denominations. Women with demure hair coverings and babies jostled alongside their husbands, alongside pious long-skirted young girls clutching prayer books (like me) and yeshiva guys trying to study Talmud while dangling from a pole.

It was 1999. In recent years, buses just like this one had exploded on the streets of Jerusalem and in particular on Jaffa Road, reducing their passengers to a mass of body parts on the pavement.

And nearly all of us, every passenger on that crowded bus, had just prayed at the Western Wall.

And maybe because it was a holiday, a holiday of freedom that has been celebrated among the Jewish people for thousands of years, one of the men on the bus began to sing. A wordless, joyous tune, it was one of the most popular religious songs in Israel that year.

For a moment there was a hushed silence, and the lone voice singing was the only sound on that bus. But only a moment, and then more voices joined with his. As we passed the Old City walls and headed for Jaffa Road, more and more passengers joined in the song.

At the time I was lucky enough to have a window seat, so I watched the crenelated walls speed by as the melodies swelled around me. I did not sing, but I recall thinking: This is something I will always remember.

And now, when I'm cleaning for Passover the smell of Windex can awaken this memory, or the taste of matzah, or something indefinable in the warm Jerusalem air. Ten years later, everything is different -- the Western Wall is walking distance from my home, and I haven't prayed there in a long time. But that memory will always be one that I treasure of Passover.

 

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