Sunday is Palm Sunday and we hear the church bells ringing. There is a beautiful processional in the Old City, singing hosannas and waving palm branches. We bring our dishes to be kashered in the communal boiling water “hagalat keilim” in our neighborhood. We go out to our favorite Italian restaurant for our last chametz pasta dinner and the owner who made aliyah from Rome 30 years ago sings us the Four Questions in Italian.
The day of Erev Pesach we burn our chametz in a convenient chametz-fire right in front of our apartment building that someone else had started earlier in the day. Kids and families and couples keep coming by to “use” the fire and toss their last bread pieces in. The whole neighborhood smells like a campfire.
The night of the ONE Seder we walk to our family along with scores of other folks dressed in their holiday best converging by foot and car to their relatives, laden down with casserole dishes and flowers. On the way home—at 4 a.m.— we see a small group of punky looking teenagers returning home from their Seder, acting out just a little in their too-tight skirts, smoking and laughing from the four cups of wine they made sure to drink religiously. As they pass, I hear one of them say, “Don’t look at me that way—my grandfather was a Rabbi!”
First day of chol hamoed and people are out in full force. I have never seen so many cars and so many people on the streets of Jerusalem. Here is a typical picture of what I saw on just one street downtown: three Chasidic men in gold caftans, white knickers, white belts and huge shtreimels; a Russian Orthodox priest in a long black robe standing in front of a downtown hotel giving out blessings while people lined up to kiss his ring; secular Israelis eating kosher-for-Passover crepes; and lots and lots of American tourists looking a little shell-shocked by the kosher-for-Passover Ben and Jerry’s.
We attend a picnic on chol hamoed at Liberty Bell Park, along with many other families, and we form a circle to sing spring songs and do a unique and special ceremony called Birkat Ha-ilanot: Blessing of Flowering Fruit Trees. There is an old Kabbalistic custom to go out sometime in the month of Nisan—preferably out of the city but in Jerusalem it’s possible to do it right in any park—find a newly flowering fruit tree, and say a special blessing: You are Blessed, our G-d and G-d of our ancestors; Your world lacks for nothing, and You have created beautiful creations and beautiful trees, so that we may be able to enjoy them. You can only say this on a tree that has started to flower, and though we sat under budding olive trees we could not find any flower. However after the picnic we decided to go to one of the city’s museums and right there, right on the branch of an olive tree planted right in the middle of the sidewalk, we saw our first flower, and chanted the blessing as buses and cars whizzed by.