Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring cleaning for Passover: Ancient Bnei-Brak

Passover is nearly here, and in Israel that means two things: first everybody is spring cleaning and secondly everyone is planning a holiday. Orthodox Jews thoroughly clean out  their homes and then burn any bread.  When I lived in an orthodox neighbourhood of Tel-Aviv every passover there were small bonfires all over the place where people burnt their bread. The entire nation's supply of bread and bread shops are sold to an Arab in a town called Abu-Gosh (famed for its Pitta and Humous). He then sells it back one (bread free) week later.

The other thing that happens is that the price of a cleaning woman goes through the roof: everybody is trying to hire one.  My cleaner last year simply disappeared for three weeks as she could make much more money working for other people.  Presumably the garbage collectors have more work too. Tel-Aviv's garbage used to go to Hiriya
 which is a dump just outside the city. In the nineties when Israel made peace with Jordan I read an account by a journalist from HaAretz who went to Amman where a Palestinian approached him and said "Is it true what they say about my home village?"  "What was your village called?" replied the journalist.  "Hiriya" came the response.
From 1948 onwards all the Tel-Aviv area garbage was dumped at Hiriya and by the late nineties the dump had become a small mountain with excellent (if smelly) views of Tel-Aviv. Unfortunately Hiriya was also under the flight path to Ben-Gurion airport and at that point it began to threaten the safety of plane landings. The dump was closed and efforts are underway to turn it into a park (there is a lovely bike path from Tel-Aviv to Hiriya).  So now when we spring clean the garbage is shipped off to the Negev, which is more costly to reach and therefore gives more motivation to recycle.

I spend every other passover in England where I celebrate it with almost-family Jewish friends. I have a regular role in their Passover Seder, involving a dramatization of the ten plagues God visited on Egypt before Pharoh let the Israelites go. The kids love it but this year my mother (who also comes) warned me that the kids were getting a bit old and I might have to do something new.  So I thought of doing a presentation about the origins of the Hagaddah (the text Jews read over Passover) which is thought to have been written around the second century (using earlier bits too).
There are various Rabbis mentioned as discussing Passover in "Bnei Brak" and one can establish rough dates for when they lived as a guidance to when it was written.  So I had a look on  Wikipedia to find out about the Rabbis.
I also looked up Bnei Brak.  Modern Bnei Brak is the most religious suburb of Tel-Aviv and one of the poorest towns in Israel. I have heard that the apartment buildings are so overcrowded that at night they put out mattresses and the children sleep in the corridors.  It seems that there was a biblical town called Bnei Brak and it is thought to have been on the site of a Palestinian-Arab village called Ibnei-Ibarak.  So it goes in Israel: Palestinian towns and villages are on the remains of Jewish towns while Jewish towns are built on or near the remains of Palestinian towns and villages. 

Modern Bnei Brak was founded in 1924 and it seems that the Arab village with a similar name didn't like the connection.  So they renamed their village.  The new name?  Hiriya.  


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