In just a few hours, my colleague Efrat and I will set out for the London Book Fair, one of the major annual events in the global publishing industry. There thousands of editors, literary agents, authors, and booksellers from around the world will gather at the convention center at Earl’s Court to pitch new titles, sell rights, show off ever-younger and ever-more-daringly-experimental debut writers, and pop open many a bottle of Champagne at the afternoon receptions. There, too, I will dress in the Ann Taylor black slacks I pull out of my closet only on such occasions (as they are far too formal for my sundress-and-crocs Jerusalem lifestyle), and make my way from stall to stall for a regimen of 45 pre-scheduled half-hour appointments over the course of several days. Exhausted and overwhelmed, Efrat and I will return to Jerusalem on erev Shabbat which leads directly into Pesach, landing at Ben Gurion airport, no doubt, surrounded by throngs of tourists from around the world arriving for the holiday.
Returning home on the day before erev Pesach is not going to be easy, even though I am (thankfully!) not making a Seder in my apartment. Still, I need to get rid of most of my chametz before I leave tonight, and arrange for the sale of what is left. I also need to stock up on Kosher-for-Pesach foods, as the supermarkets will be a madhouse on Friday and will anyway all be closed by 1pm, when the city shuts down. It’s all a bit overwhelming, which is why I was more than happy to offer Efrat a few crackers just now when I came down to her office. “Please take some,” I said. “You’re helping me get rid of my chametz.”
“Don’t remind me,” she said. “I’m dreading this holiday.” Efrat is completely secular, and I was positive she does not keep kosher. So why does she hate Pesach? Surely she eats chametz throughout the chag. Noticing my bewildered expression, she explained what she meant. “It is impossible to get bread on Pesach in Jerusalem. None of the supermarkets sell it, and even the aisles with crackers and pretzels are covered up with wrapping paper. Usually I go out a few days before the holiday and stock up, but this year I won’t be here. I just put a dozen bagels in my freezer, as well as two bags of pita – hopefully that will last me.”
Efrat went on to explain that each year, on Pesach, she feels like she is under siege. She, and surely others like her, have suffered under the Chametz Law passed by the Knesset in 1986, which stipulates that a “business proprietor may not publicly display chametz products for sale or consumption.” It is true that last week the Jerusalem municipal court ruled that the sale of chametz in a store or restaurant during Passover does not constitute a “public” sale, and is therefore not prohibited by the current law banning the sale of chametz in public. Still, religious members of Knesset are now asking for an emergency session to change the law so as to preserve the uniqueness of the Jewish State – as they see it. Others, apparently, see things differently.
In these last few hours before we leave for the book fair, Efrat is stocking her freezer with leavened products, and I am trying to rid my freezer of even the slightest trace of breadcrumbs. When we arrive in London, each of us will try to eat as much bread as possible, buying fresh rolls at Café Nero and boxed triangle-shaped sandwiches from Pret-a-Manger at the bookfair kiosks. Each of us will feel like this is our last chance to freely enjoy chametz before the week-long commemoration of our people’s bondage in Egypt and their journey to the promised land – a land which, with its Chametz Law and its craziness, is (for better or worse) the place we both call home.