Working in Jerusalem
The trade secret of comedians is timing, timing, timing. So
we're a total flop in that department. Why? Because we're going to tell you
the happenstances in the run-up to Passover - which, sorry, pardon, was a few
weeks back by the time you eyeball this.
But no doubt about it; we're having fun. Jerusalem style.
Unless you've been living in a cave for the past 3,500
years, you'll know that (a) Passover is a thanks-a-million to God for getting
the Jews out of Egypt (you did see the film already, surely?) and that
(b) the main preparation for the seven-or-eight day Feast involves clearing out
every last little lump of leaven. Yeast. Hametz.
Simple. Chuck out the bread. Give any crumbs to dem
dickyboids. Buy a box of matzos, the bricks-without-straw unleavened
Jews take this seriously. Not only are all yeast products
ruthlessly pursued and expelled, but such a spring cleaning of dark corners you
wouldn't believe. Christians who regard the giving up of cannabis for Lent as
the very height of spirituality should come to Israel and marvel. Here both
secular and religious Jews purge homes and workplaces of the symbol of evil.
It's an effort. Ask any frazzled Israeli housewife.
Better still, ask little old us, volunteer bondslaves
in a Home for 140 old folks.
Can you imagine the drama (no, you can't, so we'll tell
you in a moment; savlanut - which means patience) of ritually cleansing
an institution's kosher milk and meat kitchens without interrupting the
normal bedlam of preparing, serving and clearing away 3x140=420 meals a day and
without purified items coming into contact with the unpurified.
Now, (let us say humbly) thus far into our year-long stay in
Jerusalem, we're rather slick at diningroom duties. We scoot around with
trolleys, deftly scoop up used cutlery and crockery, sorting as we go. Make
bright-but-basic Hebrew small talk to the slower diners. Then drop (sometimes
literally, but hey, that's life) all the used stuff to where sons and
daughters of Ishmael are poised around an asthmatic dishwashing contraption. And
back into the diningroom to transform the tables with crisp new cloths, and
arrange cutlery, cups, plates and serviettes just so.
There's an art to it. Including not bowling over the old
dears as they shuffle out on walkers. Finding caches of tucker that ancient folk
like to conceal behind the curtains. (Yes, we'll be like that one day; we can
All these skills and more scarcely prepared us for the
prelude to the Passover.
Most buildings in Israel have tiled floors. So our Arab
cleaners do sponja - slop a bit of water down, push it around with a
rubber blade on a pole. But before Passover...
Honestly, without a word of exaggeration, as we laid up for
the next meal, placed tissue-paper serviettes, neatly sited little bowls of
salad, not only were the cleaners shifting tables and scrubbing their legs (no,
no, no! The tables'.), but Sammi, our young kitchen-hand, was gleefully
operating the fire hose. Indoors. Water-blasting the windows where residents
(and the odd naughty NZ volunteer) had tossed bread to the doves. Power-hosing
the venetian blinds. Pressure-spraying into every crook and nanny where nasty hametz
could lurk. Even our local cockroaches gleamed like new.
A difficult time. We paddled about our duties amid showers
and shouting. Until Eileen reached a patch of floor where olive oil had been
deposited and performed a pirouette that Fonteyn would've been proud of. And
retired to swallow Voltarin and other painkillers from her well-stocked medicine
(Thanks for asking - Eileen writing this bit - I can
sit down without wincing now. With care. Sometimes.)
While, in the kitchens, the hubbub (pandemonium is the wrong
word at such a holy time, eh) was up by several decibels. Kippa-clad inspectors
from the rabbinate peered and prodded. Which explained why the staff weren't
happily smoking like chimneys as they prepared the food.
Okay, let's pretend this is a sermon. So what's the
Could be. But it misses the main point.
Look, when Jews clear out leaven - and, as we jot notes for
this article, they're making a bonfire in the park six floors below and
burning the yeast with appropriate prayers - it's to remind them to take a
hard look at their lives and decide what is good to keep and what isn't. That's
Passover's a great time, a family holiday. And Christians
understand the deeper significance of the need to kill the Lamb of God; and the
outpoured blood being the only barricade between mankind and the Angel of Death.
But also... Alongside this is the story of a rag-tag tribe
just a few generations from crafting idols for sale in the bazaar; even fewer
generations from selling their own annoying brother to be a slave; and now the
tribe has become a slave people themselves.
God, long before then, before the foundation of the world,
had chosen them. Now came the herculean task of making them worthy to be called
by His name, to live in His land. To be custodians of His oracles.
To be a light to the Gentiles.
It's a big job. From the first Passover until now stretches
thirtyfive hundred years.
But rumours are going round that time is almost up and cosmic
changes are cued to begin. In fact, since we wrote the previous paragraph, an
Arab we work with gripped our arms and said: 'You know, Chairman Arafat is
just a man. He cannot live for ever. But one is coming' (he pointed to the
sky) 'who will reign here; he will be good; he will sort out this mess'.
Even so: come, Lord Jesus.