Meet the Arab Israeli who buys all of Israel’s hametz

Hussein Jabar can afford a down payment for the nation’s leavened goods every Passover, but somehow never manages to scrape together the whole price

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Hussein Jabar, a hotelier from Abu Ghosh who legally purchases all of Israel's leavened goods each year for the duration of Passover. (Courtesy)
Hussein Jabar, a hotelier from Abu Ghosh who legally purchases all of Israel's leavened goods each year for the duration of Passover. (Courtesy)

Each year Israel is confronted with a problem ahead of Passover — what to do with the state’s hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of leavened goods. Jews cannot possess the products, called hametz, during the festival according to Jewish law.

Enter Hussein Jabar.

On Thursday, the 57-year-old Arab Israeli hotelier from Abu Ghosh, outside Jerusalem, will meet with Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to buy all of the hametz.

Jabar will make a down payment to the chief rabbinate, and will own the hametz for the duration of the holiday, until he is required to pay the full amount stipulated in the contract after Passover. If he fails to come up with the full amount, ownership will revert to the state, and he will get his down payment back.

It is a legal fiction practiced the world over for centuries, allowing Jews to avoid having to destroy all of the hametz in their homes. Needless to say, in 20 years, Jabar has not managed to fulfill the contract.

“At 12 on Thursday I’m meeting the chief rabbinate. There is a contract saying what I need to pay for the advance. It’s NIS 50,000 ($14,000), and by the end of Passover, according to the contract, I need to add $300 million,” Jabar told The Times of Israel. “I buy it from the police, the army, every place in Israel.”

Hussein Jabar, left, meets with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, finance minister Moshe Kahlon and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau. (Courtesy)

He receives the keys to relevant properties and a list detailing his vast acquisition, which includes the hametz of the state, state-owned companies, the prison service and the national emergency supply.

Despite his less-than-illustrious track record of fulfilling the payment, the work is deadly serious, he said.

“I’ll get the money,” he said. “Why would it be funny? We have a signed contract, it’s a serious challenge.”

Jabar, who works at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem when he is not exploiting legal loopholes with world-famous rabbis, took up this pursuit 20 years ago after it was discovered that his predecessor in the role had Jewish ancestry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) seen with Hussein Jabar (L), Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (2L) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau Jerusalem, during a ceremony to sell the hametz of the state of Israel before the upcoming Passover holiday. April 02, 2015. (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO)

After two decades of cooperation, he has become friends with the rabbis, he said.

“They trust me, of course. If they didn’t trust me they wouldn’t do it for 20 years. All the state’s property is in my hands,” he said.

His family and neighbors do their best to help him with his fundraising.

“They actually see my role in a positive light. If I can help then why not? Why not cooperate?” Jabar said. “Family, friends, everyone tries to get the money together.

“We haven’t succeeded so far, but maybe one day, b’ezrat Hashem [God willing].”

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