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First Pesach Shopping in Israel

IMG_00004340Things have changed here in Israel.  I almost hate to say it, because I’ll probably have every olah vatikah on my back about how terrible things used to be and how easy we have it today.  Sorry!

On my way out the door today to do the annual Pesach Shop – Israeli version, I was scaaaaaaared.  I’ve heard terrible things about how hard it is for us Ashkenazim here. 

Since a majority of Jews here are Mizrachi (roughly what we in chu”l called Sephardi), a majority of certified kosher-for-Pesach products contain (or may contain) what I still in my head call “kitniyos” – the beany-type things that also include rice, corn and peanut-flavoured Bamba snacks.

It’s that “may contain” that had me running scared.  Needing to read ingredient lists of fifteen bazillion tins and boxes and bags and…. eek.

For reassurance, I googled “Pesach shopping in Israel” and pulled up this Unofficial Guide to Pesach Shopping in Israel from A Mother in Israel.  It didn’t really help much.  In a few ways.

She (being Hannah, the aforementioned Mother in Israel) says: 

  • “The best way to avoid the kitniyot issue is to shop at a haredisupermarket.”   Um, none of those here in the Krayot.
  • “My handy-dandy list says we ate 23 kilograms of potatoes last Pesach.”  No handy-dandy list, and we’re short 2 people plus all the guests we knew back in Canada, so all bets are off in terms of what we’ll eat.
  • “In the US, the OU publishes a list of products considered kosher for Passover, even without a special stamp (Domino sugar comes to mind). No such list exists here.”  Ditto for the COR in Toronto.  Uh-oh.
  • “I like to shop about a week before the holiday.”  Alright, I was okay with this one.  Exactly one week to go.

Trepidatiously, we headed out for our local Osher Ad, whose name means Happiness Forever, and which pretends to be the local Costco but falls slightly short on a few counts.

But NOT – I repeat NOT! – in the Kosher-le-Pesach-for-Ashkenazim department!!!

But first – a delightful moment, when I stumbled upon the “charoset aisle.”  Only in Israel. 

Charoset, which I call “charoses,” isn’t exactly a delicacy in our house.  Usually, it’s a last-minute confection whipped up from some ground nuts, grated apples, sweet Kedem kiddush wine, and cinnamon.  Usually, I throw the stuff at my sister and tell her to figure it out.  And she does, because it’s not rocket science.

Still – in the absence of my sister, it’s nice to know it’s available in containers like this.

Anyway, the biggest and most delightful surprise was the SIGNS, clearly and prominently posted above or below to almost every item in the store.

Some of the signs said “לאוכלי קטניות”, which means “for eaters of kitniyot,” like this one.


(yeah, I wanted to buy chocolate spread… oh, well)

Other signs said “ללא חשש קטניות”, which means “no suspicion of kitniyot.”


(but I didn’t buy this coffee anyway; it was just an example)

Some of the signs were smaller, some were bigger.  All were very, very helpful.

In most product categories, there were a few decent choices even for us kitniyos-haters.  The real exceptions were oil and mayonnaise.  In Canada, I always bought a bottle of cottonseed oil (as the kids here would say, ichsa) and used as little as possible. 

Here, it doesn’t seem like they have any, so the Ashkenaz-friendly choices were a rather murky-looking palm oil and (at twice the price) hazelnut.  I went with palm – and again, will use as little as possible.  I bought two big bottles of olive oil for a good price, so hopefully, we’ll rely on those for most things. 

Despite hating waste, I am always happy to throw away any unused Pesach oil at the end of the holiday.

As for mayo, they had a great big tub of Gefen, same as in the States, but I didn’t want a great big tub for 20 shekel.  Fortunately, Naomi Rivka spotted the small sign next to the more reasonably-sized tubs of kitniyos-free mayo.  I didn’t peer at the fine print to see what oil they used in there.  Again, we use it sparingly and throw away happily after yom tov, but sometimes it comes in handy.

As I took the mayo off the shelf, I noticed an older couple peering at the labels and whispering to each other.  Turned out they were not only Ashkenazim but also speaking English, a rarity here, and I was happy to show them the little mayonnaise jar before we moved on.

I’ve heard margarine is almost impossible for us Ashkenazis to buy.  And again, ichsa.

Anyway, lest you think our First Pesach Shop was TOO EASY and therefore not enough to toughen us up and turn us into True Olim… I decided, subconsciously perhaps, to throw two wrenches into the works.

Overall, our Great Big Pesach Shop (phase 1) took about 3 hours and ultimately made us late for Naomi Rivka’s dance class, but that was mainly because I made her pose at the bus stop so I could take her picture with our lengthy receipt… only to realize that we were at the WRONG BUS STOP.

 IMG_00004344 IMG_00004345

Oh, but wait.  Before I tell you about that… see that nice long 800 shekel receipt she’s holding???  After I finished paying, I tucked it neatly inside one of the couple-dozen grocery bags… and forgot which one I’d put it in.

Which was okay until it was time to leave the store and the security guard stopped me.  No receipt, no exit – period.  He sits there all day with a stamper, stamping receipts, and woe upon anyone who has hidden her receipt inside one of a couple-dozen tightly packed grocery bags in a bundle buggy.

“Go back to the cashier,” he said (after a few times of me saying, “what?”).  “She can print you a copy.” 

I had no idea this was possible, but I did as I was told, leaving Naomi with the guard. 

The cashier immediately stopped what she was doing (checking out a couple’s groceries) and called for a supervisor.  And then everybody waited.  And waited.  The supervisor didn’t call or stop by.

“What are we waiting for?” asked the husband of the couple.

“She needs her receipt,” the cashier told him.

I apologized but weirdly for Israel, he didn’t seem at all disturbed.  Eventually, when nobody called or came, he suggested that she could try again AFTER they paid for their groceries, so she finished checking out their order.

She did call again, but nobody came.  So eventually, she just scrolled through the last half-hour of receipts on her cash register (handy!  I didn’t know they could do that!), I pointed to mine, and she printed it and handed it to me.

I walked to the front, handed it to the guard, who stamped on it.  He barely even looked up and for sure didn’t do anything like correlate what was written on the receipt with the groceries in my bag.  “First time shopping here?” he asked, in a not entirely kind tone of voice.  “First time shopped for Pesach in Israel,” I said.  “First Pesach in Israel.”

Just before we left the store, the couple whose grocery-checkout I’d held up for a couple of minutes came by with their stuff and very kindly asked if we needed help.  I assumed they meant getting out to our car, so I just said we were okay.  Which we were.

Well, except for waiting at the wrong bus stop.  But even there, a nice lady randomly handed Naomi Rivka a bag of (kosher-for-Pesach!) chips.  Sometimes, I really like living in Israel.

The right bus stop was across the street and the minute I realized my mistake (and let another bus go that could actually have gotten us home quickly enough), we saw our bus pulling out, so we had to wait nearly 20 minutes for the next one.

That was easily both the biggest change and the hardest thing about Pesach shopping this year:  no car.

Well, also not going with my mother.  That part was sad.  I’ve been replace; I already heard last week from my sister, who had been called in to fill in for me.

It’s not that I help my mother, or, really, that she helps me.  We just usually do it together.  And then sometimes buy a haggadah afterwards.  And pizza (since they put in the Second Cup in the same plaza, it’s often a coffee occasion as well). 

And just Being Jewish Women together, shopping and preparing for yom tov just the way our ancestors did in Egypt, in Israel, in Poland or wherever.  Which I guess was also what this outing was about with Naomi Rivka.

It was nice.  We have a long way to go before we’re ready… but it’s a start.

Is it just my imagination, just our store, or has Pesach shopping in Israel really gotten easier???


  1. Osher Ad is a good place for Pesach shopping. But as you discovered, sometimes it's hit-or-miss. I found once some non-kitniyot margarine made from palm oil, which I understand is healthier than cottonseed oil. Danny also bought one jar of Gefen kitniyot-free tomato sauce almost by accident, and now we can't find any more. It's a must-have for matzah pizza, unless I want to bother making my own sauce. The thing I found so different shopping for Pesach here is the lack of "mixes." You know - the various muffins & cakes made from matzah meal, which my husband, mother in law & sister in law can't eat now anyway. In other words, we're surviving just fine. And anyway, it's only a week!

    1. I was skeptical because the last time I went the selection and prices didn't amaze me. But for Pesach - I agree.
      For a long time, we didn't use the mixes either, because (on top of everything!) we don't eat gebrocks. Then, maybe 2-3 years ago, many of the mixes and lots of the cereal too became gebrocks-free. Forgot to look at the cereal selection yesterday... it is my comfort and staple most years now. :-/
      They DID have lots of kitniyot-free tomato paste (in the weird plastic tubs). A little sugar, salt, water, oregano, garlic and you have pizza sauce.

  2. The rabbinate just okayed canola oil for non-kitniyot eaters.

    1. "Just okayed" - source??? Googled but cannot find anything. I mean, there are always rumours, scuttlebutt and rabble-rousers trying to convince me it's okay. But the chief rabbinate is a whole 'nother thing.

  3. You are right. Thirty years ago there was almost nothing without kiniot. I lost weight over Pesach. Chag Sameach snd welcome.

  4. Regarding the Rabbanut and Canola oil: (you can google in Hebrew and find many other links as well). Also, I've found non-kitniot chocolate spread in the past - I think Elite. If it says "may contain liftit" - that's the same stuff that's in Canola oil. Chag kasher v'sameach!

    1. Yes indeed; "liftit" is my new word for Pesach this year. Thanks for this... fascinating stuff, all of it. Chag sameach!!! :-)

  5. About the canola oil, check with your rabbi. I only use olive oil. It may not be cheap, but it's good all year round, and I don't have awful stuff to throw out or sit in the pantry. We never buy canola even during the year. I don't think it's any different from Israeli soy oil, which isn't American "vegetable oil" from a variety of sources.
    Pesach shopping sans kitniyot is so much easier than in the olden days. We're here well over 40 years. And you should know that if you end up buying something KP with kitniyot you can eat it after Pesach. IT ISN'T CHAMETZ. IT CAN BE KEPT IN THE CLOSET.

    1. @Batya, indeed, my husband bought the "wrong" breakfast cereal, which contains kitniyot, and it's right out there on the shelf (no closet). Actually... so's the KLP rice I cooked last Shabbos in our Pesach pots. But the leftovers are in the freezer since we can't eat them until Pesach ends. :-)


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