One of the coolest parts about spending a chag in Israel is that the whole country gets into it, and Pesach is no exception.
I had the option of flying home to spend it with my family, but I would have been bored. I also wanted to go on a trip to Poland through my seminary, and since it came at a hefty price, it was skip the trip and go home or go to Poland and stay here. I couldn't give up that opportunity, so I made the decision to stay in Israel for Pesach.
The day before erev Pesach, I went out to sushi with a friend, and the place was packed. We had to wait outside for a table. The pizza store across the way was even more crowded. It seemed that everybody had turned their kitchens over and had no choice but to go out to eat.
I went grocery shopping and saw kosher for Pesach cornflakes, chocolate cereals, cookies, and cakes (mostly for people who eat kitniyot but it was cool, anyway). The matzah, wines, and potato starch were prominently displayed.
There were signs up all over Yerushalyim - "Chag Kasher V'sameach!" Not an Easter bunny in sight.
I was so scared that I would be homesick over chag. The seder is such a family-oriented practice; each household has its own quirks and customs that make it unique. In my class on the Haggadah, my teacher would read certain parts and I would hear my dad's voice. I would close my eyes and be back home around our dining room table, smelling horseradish and cinnamon. I warned my parents that I was going to call them crying before Yom Tov started, missing home.
That didn't happen. I called home for about two seconds to say a quick "chag sameach" before going back to my rabbi's house to help them set up. The seder at their house was different than mine, but in a good way. It was livelier, certainly louder, and being at my teacher's table and seeing his family dynamic was a fun twist.
Since I usually get lunch and dinner from my school, I've been having fun cooking for myself this week. Sometimes I got fancy with omelettes and salads (cherry tomatoes + avocado + hearts of palm + Bulgarian cheese + lemon juice = YUM), but sometimes it's just been a bag of chocolate milk or pistachios to tide me over. I haven't missed chametz at all - the fresh fruits and vegetables are a nice break from heavy cafeteria food.
I've also been using the free time to go to places I haven't been yet, like Mevoh Modiin of Carlebach fame and the desert oasis of Ein Gedi. Today I was a bit burned out from long bus rides two days in a row, so I puttered around school, met a friend, and bought a romance novel from the bargain bin, which I read outside while munching on golden raisins.
This vacation is the first chunk of free time we've had in a while, and c'mon, who doesn't love spring break? But it's little things like the cashier wishing me "chag sameach" and seeing all of the markets and bakeries I pass with potato starch cookies that make this time so charming.