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By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service

Tel Aviv, Israel – As religiously observant Jews know all too well, preparing for Passover can be backbreaking work. Every corner of the house, every toy box, sofa crevice and schoolbag must be scoured for “hametz” — leavened foods made from grain.
As it turns out, it’s no different at 35,000 feet.
Passover cleaning is so rooted in Jewish law and tradition that even El Al, Israel’s national airline, “kashers” (makes kosher) its entire fleet of planes and all airport lounges in preparation for the eight-day holiday, which begins at sundown on Saturday (April 19).
While El Al’s actual kashering process is slated to occur Thursday (April 17), planning for the Passover holiday — which commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt — has been underway at El Al’s Tel Aviv headquarters for several weeks.
Cleaning crews have been prepped, menus altered, new dishes ordered and planes rerouted to ensure that all 40 or so planes in the fleet arrive here on time for their nose-to-tail scrub-down.
Rabbi Yohanan Hayut, director of El Al’s religious services division, said three dozen kashering experts will supervise the holiday change-over. Leftover hametz will be stored and ritually sold to a non-Jew, as required by Jewish law.
No bread or other products made from grain — including beer and whisky, which are distilled or fermented from grain — will be served during Passover. Roasted almonds and dried fruit snacks will be served instead of pretzels and crackers. As many as 35,000 pieces of matzoh, a grainless cracker, will be served to passengers regardless of their religion.
Only kosher-for-Passover products will be available at the duty-free shops at Ben-Gurion Airport, the largest airport in Israel.
Because every-day plates absorb hametz, Passover meals will be served on disposable plates with disposable flatware in economy class, while business- and first-class passengers will be treated to new dishes and cutlery.
“Kitniyot,” or legumes, which Jews of East European descent are prohibited from consuming during Passover, will not be served, and El Al will only serve matzoh that has been prepared according to the strictest of standards. All Passover meals, regardless of the country in which they are prepared, will adhere to these high standards, he noted.
“On Passover, as during the rest of the year, we do not compromise on anything,” Hayut said, sounding like a general overseeing a delicate military operation.
For Passover, the planes’ ovens will be scrubbed, chemically cleaned, then heated to the maximum temperature for at least 30 minutes. The airline has purchased 500 new oven inserts and trays in which to cook the food.
Passover preparations will not stop at the galley, however.
“The cabin floors will be cleaned and the carpets will be cleaned with special cleaning materials, then vacuumed,” Hayut said. “Our team of 35 kashrut supervisors will be equipped with brushes, spotlights and the tools they need to ensure everything is free of hametz.”
Passengers hoping to bring their own food onto the plane, either because they aren’t religious and because they crave a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, will be politely told to store their their “contraband.”
“Until two years ago some (fervently Orthodox) people brought their own food onto the plane,” Hayut acknowledged. “Now these people are told not to because the Passover food is under the supervision of the Edah Haredit,” Israel’s strictest kosher authority. “The flight crew is instructed to tell any passenger who brings their own food to put it away.”
Though Passover presents special challenges for El Al and other Israeli institutions, “as Israel’s national airline, we observe all holidays, and this is just one of several,” said Sheryl Stein, spokesperson for El Al’s American office.
“Just as we don’t fly on Yom Kippur or the Jewish Sabbath, we take Passover very seriously. Observing Passover is a sacred obligation, one we’re proud to fulfill.”
Even secular Israeli Jews who resent Israel’s lack of formal separation between religion and state actually welcome the trappings of Passover, says Yehuda Goodman, an anthropologist at the Hebrew University.
“Religion and state are much more interwoven in Israel than in, say, the United States, and from a very young age Israelis arrange their world in relation to Judaism and Jewish symbols,” Goodman explained. “Polls show that the vast, vast majority of Israelis celebrate Passover in one way or another.”
Even if they reject Passover’s dietary restrictions, Goodman said, Israelis appreciate the hard work that goes into El Al’s pre-Passover cleaning frenzy.
“If you look at the traffic jams just before the Seder is set to begin, you realize that Passover is a national holiday, not just an Orthodox religious one. El Al is simply part of the national ethos,” Goodman said.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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