Passover in Israel is an entirely different bag o beans

Moving to Israel was supposed to make our lives easier. Well, at least around Pesach time. But that’s not exactly how it’s turned out.

I’ll admit it: the Passover holidays “back home” were always a bit of a hassle. Let’s start with the food.

Unless you live in certain neighborhoods of New York or Los Angeles, the regular supermarkets don’t do a clean sweep of anything not-kosher-for-Pesach the way they do in Israel. So buying food free of chametz (the breads and other grain products prohibited during the seven days of Passover) invariably necessitated a trip to the kosher market.

Which in our case was a good half hour drive away. Jostling with the other customers in the narrow aisles of the store was never a particularly spiritually uplifting experience.

But at least everything in the store was kosher, a pleasant change from the need to scrutinize the labels at the Safeway, searching for that tiny O-U, Star-K or some other kashrut symbol that meant we could buy it. And that was during regular shopping; before Passover, multiply the label checking by a factor of 10 plagues.

In Israel, everything is backward. During most of the year, we can go to any old supermarket and buy whatever we want since everything is kosher. On Pesach, though, it’s back to label-checking. That is, if you don’t eat kitniyot.

Kitniyot are defined as “legumes” and are a food that is prohibited only to Jews of Ashkenazi (or European) origin during Pesach. Kitniyot are not forbidden foods themselves, not like wheat or barley. Rather they’re substances that either appeared similar to true chametz or were once transported in the same sacks and containers: foods like rice, corn and peanuts.

The problem is, a majority of Israel’s population are of Sephardi (non-European) origin, and the rabbinical leaders in those countries have long been more lenient, ruling that Sephardi Jews can eat all the kitniyot they want. And so while in North America the kosher markets at Pesach time are pretty much kitniyot-free, in Israel those same kosher stores are filled with 100 percent kosher-for-Pesach food — all fit for everyone but us.

Now you might say “when in Rome …,” and you’d be right. More and more North American immigrants to Israel are adopting the custom of the land. My wife, Jody, and I resisted for many years, but last year, we finally gave in. In the end, it wasn’t a major philosophical decision. We simply couldn’t find any kitniyot-free mayonnaise.

At least we’re on the same side of the bean now.

Still, checking labels for ingredients is a small price to pay compared with the major benefit of Passover in Israel: only having to sit through one seder. But this, too, is a mixed blessing.

Traditional Jewish practice holds that the three main pilgrimage holidays — Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot — are celebrated for one day in Israel and two days outside the country. The origin of this custom had to do with how official confirmation concerning when the new month started was sent out from the authorities in Jerusalem.

In olden times, transmission of the message went via fires and signals on the tops of hillsides (and now you know where “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” got the idea). As a result, there was a concern that far-flung communities might receive the news late and mess up on the day. And so, despite the fact we now have written calendars, atomic clocks and round-the-clock TV news, diaspora Jews still celebrate for two days.

That means two Pesach seders.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We love a good seder. But what are you supposed to do for an encore on the second night? Read it all again? The story doesn’t change, guys. OK, fine, we’ll do the Four Questions and the Four Sons again, but all the rest? It takes hours you know. Dayenu already.

During our years in North America before moving to Israel, we tried to make the best of it. We’d usually host a long drawn-out intellectual seder with friends on the first night, and then do a shorter to-the-point seder with the extended family on the night No. 2. It worked pretty well, especially since I was always afraid my parents would find it a bit of a drag to wait until close to 11 p.m. before we even got to the matzah ball soup.

My mother put my fears to rest one Pesach when she pulled me aside into the kitchen and said, “Don’t worry about moving too fast this time. Your father had a big bagel and cream cheese before seder.”`

I didn’t bother to ask if it was legume-free.

And so, when we got to Israel, we were so excited to finally be having only one seder. We put extra energy into making sure everything was perfect for our single annual shot. Everyone had his or her own Haggadah and had been asked to prepare something stimulating to discuss. We’d scoured the house for even the slightest breadcrumb and Jody had cooked up a storm. We’d sung loud and hard at shul.

In short, when we got to the table we were all completely exhausted. The two younger kids fell asleep before the gefilte fish. I started nodding out after the second glass of wine. Jody did her best to keep her head up at least until the afikomen.

And suddenly, the wisdom of the rabbis began to make a bit more sense. You know, maybe we could use two seders after all!

But I’m still eating the kitniyot.

Brian Blum writes the syndicated column “This Normal Life,”