Part of our pre-Pesach experiences was going to buy hand made shmura matza for the Seder in Mea Shearim. It was quite an adventure as we wandered (basically aimlessly) around Mea Shearim looking for matza bakeries that were open in the middle of the night. We walked miles (literally) getting a very nice tour of the alleys and hidden courtyards of Mea Shearim. Had our yiddish been a little better we may have reach our goal a little faster, but we did persevere and were eventually successful. I was going to write something on the topic myself, but my friend Jordan wrote a nice piece (see below) that pretty much captured the experience so I will let him speak for me, plus it is an easy way to get Amichai into a picture!
Hope all is well!
Crossing the Yarden
© Al HaMakom 2006
by Yarden Frankl
Hey Buddy, Got Any Matzah?
Since this year was our first Pesach in Israel, we decided that we had to do something extra special. Together with my friend who also made aliyah from our neighborhood in the “old country,” we decided that we would have a late night tiyul to Mea Sharim. We would find an old guy with a long beard making matzah by hand. He would bless us for our decision and teach us some wisdom while we sat at his feet. So off we went.
Mea Sharim in the middle of the night two days before Pesach is a really neat experience. The streets are full and everyone is in a holiday, festive atmosphere. The Haredi are actually really nice when not rioting, and many responded helpfully to our queries for Matzah.
Everywhere we went we saw an unusual sight. Men and women of all ages were running around with metal hand carts, most of which were full of potatoes. Sacks and sacks of potatoes. Every so often we would see a little child guarding the family pile of potatoes while the other members of the family collected more. We rounded a corner, and there in the street were several vans in which guys were selling potatoes out of the back. People were just crowding round the vans hollering for their taters.
Then we came to a whole street that was blocked off. A sea of black hats crowded round huge trucks filled with one of the four major Pesach food groups: meat, eggs, carrots, and yes – potatoes. Imagine a 40 foot lift that has been used by a family of ten to make Aliyah. Now take out all the big American furniture and appliances and fill the space with eggs – get the picture?
Yet, we were on a mission to buy matzahs – not eggs or potatoes – and we would not be deterred. When my slow Hebrew did not seem to be making an impression on the Haredi crowd (“Slicha, Efo HaMatzot Chabibi?”) I instead just nudged some kid with really long braided peyos and said “Hey buddy, I need some good matzahs if you know what I mean.”
At first he looked either alarmed or confused, but then he started giving the typical directions that Israelis give when they have no idea what you have asked them “Yashar, yashar, yashar, yamina, az yashar”)
Somehow we found a matzah bakery. Dozens of workers were rolling dough and throwing it in and out of the fire. Yet in response to my poignant request for some of the flat stuff the kid who seemed to be running the place just shook his head. Apparently, out of the ten thousand matzahs they were baking, they had none to spare. Of course, I did not make any friends when I took out my camera to grab a shot of the place. Hey, nobody told me that cameras can make graven images. (Message to Haredi guys – put “no pictures either” on the charming signs welcoming women to the neighborhood).
Now, it was getting real late. We had walked for miles and still had no matzahs. (Although we did get to see the world potato market at work). We were about to give up when we somehow actually found a place just as they were closing for the night. There was the really old guy with the long beard that we had been searching for. Although he wanted to go home for the night, we used our natural charm and skills of persuasion (in other words we begged). Surprisingly, he found a half kilo for us.
You would think that finding Matzah in Mea Sharim before Pesach would be like finding ice in Alaska at Chanukah. Yet sometimes things don’t work out exactly as you plan. But I guess it’s like the whole Aliyah experience, things may not be exactly how you imagined, but if you persevere, you will get what you need.
L’Shana Haba…. Po.
Shabbat Shalom from our blessed nation.
Yarden Frankl is the former Executive Director of the Torah School of Greater Washington. He made Aliyah in July 2005 and lives with his family in Neve Daniel.