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Israel Scrambles to Prepare the Fish in Final Passover Rush

When Israeli Jews reach the Passover seder, some of their fish will swim in chametz-free ponds. Others will join their guests at the table.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 3/24/2013, 1:36 PM

Sharon cleans fish ponds for Pesach
Sharon cleans fish ponds for Pesach
Israel news photo: Hana Levi Julian

When Jews sit down to the seder table this year on Monday night, some of their fish will be swimming in chametz-free ponds, at least in one community in southern Israel. Others will join their guests at the table.

Passover preparations in Israel have been in process for weeks, but are reaching a crescendo as the holiday fast approaches. Accommodations are being made even for the animal population.

More than a month ago, at least 200 IDF rabbis were called up to carry out the annual process of kashering (making kosher) for Pesach the hundreds of kitchens at bases around the nation. The Oketz K-9 Special Forces Unit is included, with the canines and other animals in the service, including llamas, no less, provided special food produced from kitniyot – corn, which is a non-wheat item considered permissible to Sephardic Jews by Torah law.

Likewise pet store owners have been stocking up on “kosher for Passover” food for Israel's pet population.

At 'Sharon's Jungle' in Arad, owner Sharon Aloush has made a name for himself among the locals for his experience in dealing with the minutiae of Jewish pet care. The IDF armored tank corps reservist goes as far as obtaining a Pesach kashrut certificate for the appropriate pet food.

In this small northern Negev city, Aloush is also the guru of choice for high-end homeowners with fish ponds; in the past week alone, Aloush told Arutz Sheva he was double-shifting just to cover the store and the “extra” services he provides to his special clients.

“Some of the people with fish ponds want to clean them out for Passover,” Aloush said in an interview on Sunday. “I've been swamped.” The process is not simple, requiring complete dismantling of man-made pools and removing the fish to scrub the bottom and sides of the ponds in order to empty out the offending chametz from otherwise regular year-round fish food.

“It does look beautiful when it's done,” Aloush admits. “Pesach cleaning … “

Water has other uses for Pesach around the country, sometimes at temperatures hot enough to cook the fish that swim around in the pools Aloush supplies.

In every community, at least one location features a site where large vats of boiling water are made available for “hagalah” – the process by which metal utensils can be kashered. Men with blow torches are standing by as well, ready to kasher by fire those items that cannot be made kosher by boiling water. 

Local mikveh buildings where the ritual pools of purifying waters are located also are busy with the “mikveh keilim” – the purification pool in which to immerse kitchen utensils – in use around the clock .

By Monday morning -- when all chametz must be burned and no longer available for consumption -- the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 1,000 tons of carp, 80 tons of Mousht fish and 300 tons of mullet will have been sold to families to grind into the delectable balls of gefilte fish that grace almost every Ashkenazi Jewish seder table, and the spicy slices and fillets favored by their Sephardic peers.

By Monday night, when Jews around the world sit down at the seder table to declare freedom from slavery as we do each year at the start of the Passover holiday, some of the fish will be swimming in chametz-free ponds with sparkling water; others will be spending the night at the table with the chef.