Thursday, April 5, 2012

Seder Trivia - Round 2

At our synagogue's congregational seders for the last few years, we have played the following game:  I have collected stories of unusual Pesach customs, and shared three such stories with the community:  two true stories, and one fictional story.  Participants then have to guess which two stories are true and which one is false.   (If you listen to Wait, wait, don't tell me, you get the idea, except that only one story is false.)  See Round 1 here.
Here are the stories from two years ago.  Do you know which one is false?


Story #1: This is the story of how Israeli fishermen prompted a crisis in Israel's water supply.

You may know that the laws of avoiding Hametz (leavened products) on Passover are especially strict.  According to Jewish tradition, even the most minute quantity of Hametz can render something inappropriate to use on Passover.

And you may know that Israel's main water source is the Sea of Galilee (also known as Yam Kineret).  The water in the Sea of Galilee travels through Israel's National Water Carrier all the way to Jerusalem, more than 60 miles away.

Except... that about fifteen years ago, some religious Jews in Jerusalem became anxious.  They said, there are fishermen fishing in the Sea of Galilee, and maybe some of them are using bait that is Hametz.  If so, they said, this would render the entire Sea of Galilee hametz, and along with it, Israel's entire water system.  So, they said, TRULY observant Jews in Jerusalem should use only bottled water on Passover.

But because of the strength of Israel's religious political parties, they lobbied to the Jerusalem municipality to divert Jerusalem's water supply during the holiday of Passover.
And so, for the last 10 years, a few days before Passover each year, The Israeli Water Authority diverts the National Water Carrier so that Jerusalem gets its water from a different water source for that week only, and then they switch it back.



Story #2:

On April 3, 2009, the Hasidic Jewish residents of a brownstone in Boro Park, Brooklyn, were awakened by the knocks of agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration.  They came bearing warrants to search the home because of credible reports that illegal drugs were being grown there.
And sure enough, the brownstone was full, top to bottom, with small plants being grown hydroponically - exactly as one might expect in such an illegal greenhouse.
But when the DEA agents saw and smelled the plants, they were surprised -- because it was a different kind of plant than they had expected.
They had unexpectedly stumbled upon an urban greenhouse for the cultivation of ... wasabi.
How did this come to be?
Rabbi Shraga Ludkowitz and his family had realized what many of us have come to realize - that when you buy horseradish root from the store for your maror during the Pesach Seder
sometimes it packs a strong kick, but sometimes it's disappointingly weak and mild.
But Rabbi Ludkowitz knew that horseradish's Japanese cousin - wasabi -- has a consistently powerful taste and smell.
But the problem is, wasabi grows primarily in Japan, and is therefore very difficult to find with a kosher for Passover certification.
This explains why Rabbi Ludkowitz converted his home into a wasabi hydroponic greenhouse, with the goal of marketing the first kosher for Passover wasabi with a money-back guarantee if it doesn't bring tears to your eyes at the seder.
The perplexed DEA agents left the rabbi alone... but sadly, Rabbi Ludkowitz's business venture was ultimately unsuccessful -- as his crop turned out an excellent harvest of kosher for Passover Wasabi -- just in time for Yom Kippur. 




Story #3:
Many of us are familiar with the ritual of selling Hametz -- it's a way for Jews to rid themselves of Hametz during the Passover festival by selling it to someone who is not Jewish.
Many synagogues, including our own, administer such sales.
But in Israel, the Chief Rabbinate wants to make so sure that the sale is done correctly, that individual rabbis and individual synagogues are not allowed to arrange for the sale of Hametz of their members.  The sale of Hametz is especially complicated -- so it is only Israel's CHIEF RABBI who is entitled to conduct the sale, because only HE ALONE can be trusted to make sure that no detail goes wrong and possibly invalidates the sale.

And so each local community rabbi purchases all the Hametz from the members of his community,
and then sells it to the town chief rabbi, who sells it to the local region's chief rabbi, who sells it to the  regional chief rabbi, who sells it to the Chief Rabbi himself (actually one of Israel's two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazic and one Sefardic),  and then the Chief Rabbi sells ALL of Israel's Hametz... to someone who is not Jewish.  It's a breathtaking religious pyramid scheme.

From 1986 to 1996, all of Israel's Hametz was sold to an Arab businessman and lawyer named Ahmed Mugrabi.  Until in 1996 -- the Chief Rabbi realized that he had made a big big big big mistake.  Because - as it turns out - The Chief Rabbi had forgotten, for all those years, to verify one very important thing about Mr Mugrabi.

Yes, you guessed it:  Mr Mugrabi is actually Jewish.

Oops.... Better luck next time....



(ANSWER:  Stories #1 and #3 are true.  Story #2 is false.)

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