The Passover season in Israel goes into full force right after Purim, that is, one month before the holiday. Israeli employers are encouraged to purchase various gifts for their employees, and consumers are encouraged to buy anything and everything in honor of the holiday. While it usually makes more economic sense to clean your car, or refrigerator or sofa rather than to buy a new one, this does not stop the advertisers, and indeed many Israelis do use this festive period for special purchases. Thus, I don’t think it was a coincidence that, three weeks before the holiday, I noticed that workers were installing central air conditioning at my neighbor’s house down the block.
An early sign of the coming of Passover in the States — giant Passover sections at major supermarket chains in the big cities — is not as prominent here. At my local Publix supermarket in Miami, for example, they started getting ready for the holiday four weeks in advance. Here, Passover takes over my local grocery store only the week before the holiday. On the other hand, you don’t have the urgency to stock up on Passover goods that you have in the States (where you often have to be sure to buy all you need before the holiday starts–Publix began breaking down its Passover section on the first day of Passover). In Israel, Passover items are in ready supply throughout the holiday.
Israeli children are given more than ample time to prepare for the holiday, to the great dismay of many Israeli parents. Regular public schools, religious and secular, typically recess eight days before Passover. In ultra-Orthodox schools (especially for the girls), the Passover vacation often begins two weeks before the holiday. Left on their own, I have found that my children do utilize this period to prepare for a holiday–only it’s the holiday of Lag B’omer rather than Passover. After the weeks-long preparation for the holiday of Purim (which means hoarding all the fireworks they can possibly get their hands on), the next focus of youthful energy seems to be the bonfires of Lag B’omer. Toward this end, children spend up to eight weeks gathering wood in all possible forms. It’s a good idea not to leave your old wooden chairs out in the open during this period.
Before Passover, there are opportunities for children to have more enriching experiences than wood-gathering: many of the youth movements offer multi-day hiking trips at this time. Last year my two younger kids went on an overnight trip to the Golan with B’nai Akiva. After they got back, we did coax them into doing some Passover cleaning, though they complained all the while that we were making them lose out on all of the really good wood for Lag B’omer. But the truth of the matter is that since Passover is the formative national experience in Judaic memory, sleeping on the shores of the Kinneret with your Zionist religious youth group is also a kind of preparation for the holiday. It was a way for my children to viscerally connect to this land, the Promised Land of the Exodus story. And this connection to the land is, of course, one of the reasons why we moved here in the first place.