Each of our major holidays has a theme. The theme of Passover, which begins on Monday evening, is the emergence from slavery, and the journey to freedom. And strangely enough, the most impressive thing about this process, is the awareness that we have to be willing to sacrifice some of life’s pleasures in order to attain freedom. Usually, when people think of freedom, they think about the good things… the luxuries that are enjoyed by free people. And the bill of rights, so to speak. But our history tells of giving up some of the things we loved… meat and watermelon, for instance… And going out to the desert for forty years… having an entire generation die in transit so that their progeny could build a free society.


The holiday starts with a great banquet which is probably our most famous meal. It has many courses, and entire families get together to celebrate the occasion, telling the story of our exodus from slavery in Egypt, and the process by which we became a unique people. We tell our children of the cultural foundations of our people, and how freedom demands responsibility, discipline, and caring for the weak and incapacitated within our society. But the characteristic most identified with the Passover tradition, is the prohibition of the use of fermented dough.


For us, fermentation is a hint of spiritual awareness. We sanctify the Sabbath by blessing it before drinking wine or eating bread. Both wine and bread are what they are, thanks to the yeast that move in and add that certain something beyond our control. We don’t actually see the yeast… but we know its there… and it’s our allegory on spiritual awareness. There is something to be learned from those unseen microorganisms that live alongside of us in this world, interacting with us in many ways. Some even enable us to live richer lives. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million different species. But we have a special relationship to the Saccharomyces cerevisiae which convert carbohydrates to carbon dioxide used in baking, and alcohol which provides the magic in wine.


Yet when we were led out of slavery in Egypt, Moses our teacher told us to move swiftly. To get out in one night. There was no time to let the bread rise, so we took unleavened bread with us to make sandwiches. And to this day, three and a half thousand years later, we remember that rule: to move decisively, by not eating leavened bread on Passover. We call the flatbread that is prepared without yeast, matzot. And that’s what we eat in the place of bread for the seven days of the holiday. The instruction regarding fermented grain is one of our most unyielding rules. And we are prohibited beer and whisky among many other grain products that usually embellish our lives. All the same, there is no need to worry about us. Over the years, we have developed countless recipes by which to enjoy both food and drink, without the use of fermented grain.


Before the holiday, we clean our houses and our kitchens in order to remove any traces of fermentation. Each and every community provides ‘flour for the poor’. This is a very important part of the holiday, and those who do not have the means to prepare the banquet, are given all the components needed… flour, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Then we prepare the great banquet, in which all participants will be seated like royalty round the table. It is common to invite single people to join us in the feast. That first banquet is called the seder, because seder means order, And there is an order to our ceremony. Children are encouraged to ask questions. And we adults respond by telling them of our exodus from slavery. The children have a role to play at the end of the banquet too, and this keeps them involved and awake throughout the evening’s function.


The holiday lasts a week. The first and the last days are like Sabbath. And on the Sabbath that falls on Passover, we read the portion in chapter 37 of Ezekiel that refers to the dry bones. For just as we had assimilated in Egypt, and were living the life there, and accepting values that were not our own, so we were brought back to life and led to salvation by our teacher and leader, Moses. And later, when we were dispersed among the peoples of the world, in exile from our beloved country, we prayed and hoped to return to Israel, to be a living nation once again. And this great miracle happened again in my very own lifetime.


The holiday of matzot; this holiday of freedom… is also a celebration of spring. After the first day which is a full holy day, a Sabbath, the intermediate days are often celebrated by going out to nature, and appreciating the signs of spring around us. And it is with this in mind, that I chose to illustrate this holiday post with photos taken in the Begin forest, a short distance from Jerusalem.


69 responses to “fermentation

  1. What a beautiful forest… and beautiful photographs. As always so nice to read you, Thank you dear Shimon. Have a nice weekend, love, nia

    • Thank you very much, Nia. It is a really beautiful forest… We’ve been celebrating our holiday all week, and I haven’t had time for the computer. But now I’m stealing an hour or so… hoping to get back in touch. All the best to you.

  2. Lovely explanation. Happy Passover to you and yours.

  3. A blessed Passover to you! Thanks for enlightening me with the tradition and the accompanying wonderful images.

    • Thank you very much, Frank. It’s been wonderful so far… and now we are preparing for the last day of the holiday which starts this evening, and is celebrated tomorrow. It is also like a Sabbath, and very joyous.

  4. Remembering is crucial. It’s what helps to give us our identity. And as an aside – how coincidental that our Old Testament reading last Sunday was the valley of dry bones. Wonderful post, thoroughly enjoyed it – thank you, and a happy Passover to you and yours.

    • I have a feeling, Gill, that your reading and ours was more than coincidence. We have many common traditions, even if you’ve taken things to another stage of religious experience. Still, the ‘last supper’ was the Seder banquet, I believe. My very best wishes for a beautiful and moving Easter holiday.

  5. Thanks for the explanation of your festival, Shimon. I have many Jewish friends in Florida, but hadn’t realised the actual meaning of Passover to them.I love the poppy photo and the beautiful, ageless, stone wall. 🙂

    • Thanks for coming by. I too love the wild poppies. Those wild flowers that we see all around just now, fill me with the joy of spring. Glad you found the post interesting.

  6. Happy Passover to you, Shimon!

  7. Shalom and I wish you a good holiday, Shimon.

    I was taken with your pictures of the grasses and the wall. We would, I believe, call it a drystone dyke or drystone wall. There similarities to walls we see around and about where I live. However, I was ‘deprived’ of seeing the picture of the grasses enlarged further, (something to do with a Flikr link). It was, in the sense of your post, [virtually] allegorical.

    You have written about Pesach very fluidly before. I enjoy the angles of the posts. Your enjoyments and the pleasures of the festivity, all shine through notwithstanding the elements of the remembrance of the difficulties to achieve the exodus and finally arrival in the biblical promised land. For me, your way of connection with this time of remembrance is a pleasure.

    • Yes, I have plans of making my photos available as sets. The problem is that I just don’t seem to have the time to do this… lots of plans, and little time… maybe because I’m getting slower in my old age. We have a lot of those drystone walls around here. But many of them are very well designed with the stones chiseled to rectangle shapes, and fitting perfectly. Back a while, stone masons didn’t need cement to put a perfect wall together. We’ve gotten a little lazy over the years. I’m so glad that you enjoy my perspective on our history. It’s a pleasure to share. Best wishes, menhir.

      • “We’ve gotten a little lazy over the years.”

        oh, yes, in so many ways … we’ve found more “convenient” ways to do just about anything, from tending our homes to how we build just about anything or even how we choose to worship

  8. So wonderful to learn about the festival. Happy Passover to you and yours, Mr. Shimon! Love these gorgeous photos.

  9. Blessings on your sacred days, Shimon. The photography is so glorious and full of life! I thought you might enjoy this link to a local fermentation festival (http://fermentationfest.com/about-the-fest) held in autumn each year. There are so many creative ways to look at this process and what it might symbolize for our own journeys.

    How I love the dry bones reading from Ezekiel; like all great spiritual reflections, it speaks to your people’s story specifically, but also, universally, to all of us, as we emerge from our desert times…a joyful Passover and merry spring to you, my friend!

    • Thanks for the link, Kitty. I found the article by Krista, moving. I agree that we should put more effort into understanding what we have in common, and not getting stuck on the differences. And yes, the reading of the dry bones is fascinating… but on Sabbath we had a reading that was wonderful too, the ‘song of songs’ by Solomon. What a wonderful song of love that is. Thanks you for your good wishes, and a very joyful Easter holiday to you.

  10. Have a wonderful holiday Shimon. Chag Samech!

  11. Enjoy your holiday Shimon. Thank you for such an interesting post. Passover is something I’ve always been aware of but never understood before.

    • Thank you very much, Chillbrook. It has been a wonderful holiday so far… and now we are moving into the conclusion, which is no less joyful. Happy Easter to you.

  12. What a wonderful holiday. I do enjoy hearing about your rich and fascinating culture, each holiday is so unique and interesting. I hope you have a wonderful week. The photo’s are gorgeous, I especially loved the one with the red flowers, I couldn’t quite work out what they are, poppies? tulips? or maybe anemone? so pretty.xxx

    • This season is just intoxicating, Dina. We are surrounded by wild flowers, which include poppies, anemones, and many others. Tulips don’t grow here naturally. Only when they’re planted… but we have received donations from Holland which bring color to our streets here in Jerusalem. But it is the wild flowers that really move me, and I love this season especially. Glad you enjoyed them too. Today it’s a combination of two holidays with Easter falling on one of the Passover days. All my best to you and yours, xxx

  13. I can depend on you to bring a discerning eye to every photo you take, and a generous and careful attitude to your words as well. Some of my favorite memories of any religious celebrations are of seders shared with different groups of people. I wish you a joyful (and thoughtful!) Passover.

    • So glad to hear that you too have enjoyed the wonder of the seder, bluebrightly. These are truly joyous days, and a good part of the joy is getting together with friends and family… But nature is celebrating too, and there are green shoots and many wild flowers around. Thanks and all the best to you.

  14. Chag Sameach V’Kasher Shimon! Just came back from shopping for Matzah Sh’murah.

    • Thank you so much, Rachel. I think of you as I appreciate the beautiful scenes here, and hope I’ll find a little quiet soon to write you personally. Best wishes, Shimon. Moadim l’simchah.

  15. A blessed Passover to you my friend. As Christians we are remembering Palm Sunday, and the week of preparation for Easter Sunday, and I will remember you in my prayers.

    • Thanks so much, Harry. I’m thinking of you today, on Easter Sunday, and wishing you great joy and happiness, and a wonderful holiday for you and yours. It is good to share in the holiness of the day.

  16. In many cultures we speak of exodus, enslavement, imprisonment, search of the promised land, yearning the freedom… back as long as the archaic memory reminds us.
    It’s always special to to read here, of your people, of your land .. of the great master Moses and of customs related to the centuries-old Jewish worship.
    My ancestors left for America in the nineteenth century, other to Australia in search of the “promised land” which would enable them to rise above the poverty of their country. Little fertile land, when the lake had marshes across the plains up to the city of Bellinzona and Locarno. Others who lived in the valleys, fed up to take care of cows and goats, the elderly and the young left behind… never did came back.
    This was also a mass exodus. Novadays a recount in the printed books, which we’re studying in school.
    Along the centuries, starting in search of “something definite” has always been in the human mind.
    We have many “similarities” in Christian celebrations, there during Lent (40 days before Easter) where fasting, prayer and charity are taken seriously by religious practitioners.
    Thank you, as always, for sharing with us your feelings!
    Have a quiet Sabbath…
    🙂 claudine

    PS. I have red Ezekiel chapter 37… which brings me back to the Buddhist samsara where, not in the same body (ref.to the bones), but rather with my Mind/Soul I’ll find myself one day again, to be reborn in a new body… as long as I reach the enlightenment which will detach me from the law of karma… Somehow the similarities are not so paradoxical… bringing to light the real possibility that there is a strong connection (distant in time) of all religions or philosophical thoughs… but I’m just a humble citizen of the earth, I don’t have the proper training to conduct this type of diatribe. This is just what my heart suggests me!

    • Yes, Claudine… since we are all human, and most of us have had similar trials and lessons, it is no surprise that our separate cultures reflect the yearning for freedom, and overcoming slavery and abuse among many peoples. The Christian tradition has brought with it many of the aspects of Jewish tradition, while adding their own understandings and faith. And I myself have found much inspiration in learning a little of the Buddhist attitude towards holiness and sanctity in this life. When I share my own culture with others, I’m never suggesting that this is the only way or the best way. I have the greatest respect for the wisdom of other cultures, and am moved by all approaches to what is sacred. Like yourself, I too am a humble citizen of earth, and don’t consider your words a diatribe. On the contrary, you’re an inspiration. Thank you for your words.

  17. Wonderful pictures … I love those large boulders nestled in the stone wall. The smallest stones are all on the bottom, so imagine the wall may have been built as the field was cleared and any stone that was unearthed went … up on the wall!
    Blessings to you on Passover. You tell a good story Shimon. Keeping them alive!

    • Thank you so much for your good wishes and blessings, JH. And I agree with you about the stone wall. I have seen walls built in the same manner (without cement) that were much more stylized and aesthetically designed. But I enjoy these home made walls greatly.

  18. wonderful fotos and very interesting explanations of Passover rites. I wish one day I can come back to Israel. Regards Mitza

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Mitza. These are truly beautiful times in our land, and I’m sure you would have enjoyed watching my cat devouring the gefilte fish that were prepared for the holiday. I too hope that you will be able to revisit us again soon.

      • Good afternoon, Shimon. I laughed so much about your cat and the gefilte fish. Your cat is eating kosher, too. I will visit Israel again sooner or later. There were so many documentaries about Jerusalem in our tv in the last days . Such a wonderful town. Regards Mitza

  19. Your photos are beautiful! Thank you for teaching us and explaining about Passover and the seder; wonderfully rich traditions. Wishing you a happy holiday with family and friends.

    • Thank you so much for your good wishes, Angeline. It’s been a really wonderful holiday, and we are now moving towards the conclusion, which will come tomorrow. Wonderful to see the wild flowers in the fields and even in the open places in the city. And of course, so good to get together with family and friends.

  20. Happy Passover Shimon. Be blessed beyond measure.

  21. I think it is wonderful to carry on the traditions of your people by celebrating such things as Passover. Telling the children the story will ensure that it is carried on to the next generations. Bless you for doing this.

    • Yes, we have been doing this for generation after generation for a long time now, Bev. And it is amazing how the contents seem to fit for every generation. The young of today have a lot of interests and attractions. But even so, we try to connect them with what has come before. Thank you so much for your blessing.

  22. Happy Passover Shimon. My favorite pic is that wall. Creative and I’m sure VERY manual.

    • Yes, Bob, that wall was home made. We have walls more ancient than that one, that are built with great style, and designed to last without cement. But I do enjoy seeing the basics. Happy Easter to you and yours.

  23. I always enjoy when you share some of the history and traditions of your heritage. The photos were lovely, and I do hope you have a happy Passover holiday, Shimon.

    • I’ve come back to this to read through it again, and then again. So much information, rich in tradition and heritage. I truly do appreciate the many ways you are opening the doors on what it means to be living in Jerusalem. It invariably causes me to have such a deep respect and appreciation for your way of life, and for your spiritual beliefs. It’s hard to read something such as “three and a half thousand years later” and not be moved by the history behind your traditions. Thanks again for sharing some of them here, and I do hope you have a lovely Passover holiday.

      • I am very moved by your interest, and your ability to identify with our culture, N. It is a pleasure to share our culture with friends from other places on this planet. But the way you relate to some of the subjects I raise here, reminds me of the universal aspect of man’s yearning for freedom and dignity, and the knowledge that as human beings we have so much in common. You know, we all get caught up in the day to day emergencies and concerns. So it was so wonderful to step out of time, and relish the spirit, and remember the timeless concerns. With best wishes to you too on this beautiful Easter Day.

  24. Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and fulfilling time during your holidays, Shimon. Thank you again for sharing your traditions…and the compelling photos of your country.

    • So glad you liked the post, Scott. Thank you for your good wishes. This has been a wonderful holiday for us. And I have been intoxicated by the many wild flowers all around.

  25. I always learn something from your posts, Shimon. And like this week, I save your post to read when I have the time to savor it! I knew about matzoh and the tradition of cleaning the house prior to Passover, but I did not understand the importance of fermentation. Being married to a consummate bread-baker (who keeps a sourdough culture in the refrigerator) I now understand the meaning of giving up that yeast culture in order to gain freedom from oppression. May your holiday be filled with love family and friends, Shimon!

    • I love bread made of sourdough, and used to make a lot of bread myself, back when my children were still living at home. Glad to hear that you eat good bread. It’s really a pleasure. And yes, one of the important things we learn on this holiday, is that we can’t make major changes and let life go on as usual… even if some of the things we were doing are important to our life. The move to freedom meant giving up a lot of things that were essential and important in our lives… and going without, until we had straightened out what was wrong. Thanks so much for your comment, Cathy.

  26. Dear Shimon,
    I found this post very moving. Thank you for a wonderful explanation of Passover, but also for adding to it your own personal experience and perception. “And later, when we were dispersed among the peoples of the world, in exile from our beloved country, we prayed and hoped to return to Israel, to be a living nation once again. And this great miracle happened again in my very own lifetime.” I don’t know why I never made this connection before, but it brought tears to my eyes. I wish you and your family a very sweet Passover!

    • You know, my dear Naomi, I have met many people who love stories about miracles… and I have encountered comments to the effect that we should see life itself as a miracle. I have seen some miracles in my life, and I have a very different attitude to such exceptions to the rule. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’ve lived a long time and have gained a different perspective. That’s one of the advantages of growing old. We learn to be cautious about extreme situations. We learn to appreciate what’s ‘normal’, and know that even a miracle usually comes in the wake of great heartbreak. Sometimes I write about my experiences or point of view… and wonder if any of my readers can really imagine the depths of these things if they haven’t experienced them themselves. I am touched that you picked up that line, and knew what I was talking about. Thank you so much for your comment.

  27. so, with all this talk of food, friends, and family set to photos of beautiful landscapes, did you ever think to go on a picnic? i mean, that wall looks like it needs to be sat upon by friends telling stories to each other.

  28. hmmm … me think me love you … smiles … always, cat.

  29. Beautiful and insightful words…just as I remember. I am so happy to have rediscovered your blog, Shimon. Chag Sameach!


  30. Of all ther peoples. who have lived on the earth,yours seems to be unique in retaining its culture,religion and history and language.

  31. The combination of your wonderful photographs and text seems particularly potent in this post. And very generous – it’s fascinating to learn about someone else’s culture from the inside. Thanks, Shimon.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post, Richard. It was a very good holiday, and though it’s finished now, and we’re going back to normal life, spring has begun, and there’s o much beauty and life around us to continue and inspire. Thanks so much for the comment.

  32. Thank you for educate us the traditions of the festival, Mr. Shimon!

    • As a young man, I traveled quite a bit in the world and learned the cultures and traditions of others. Now that I’ve grown old, I try to share a bit of what we have here. So glad you enjoy it, Amy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s