Sunday, March 28, 2010

Preparing for Passover - Up Close and Personal

Blu Greenberg quotes her mother in "How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household". She says her "mother used to say that the Jewish housewife was the only one who didn't go out of bondage on Pesach" (Passover). I think of this expression every year when Passover approaches and it's time to start the cleaning preparations. Ideally, every drawer - every pocket - every nook and cranny should be vacuumed or washed.
I am not a "traditional Jewish housewife" and I would far rather spend my time in other pursuits. But get the cleaning done I must, for Passover comes - like it or not - and in our household we observe.

This year I had cleaners come and do the major cleaning in the rest of the house. What a blessing! We do not go to the extreme that some folks do - but what we do works for us. Extreme dusting and vacuuming suffices.

The kitchen is a different story. This is the one opportunity each year in which I am "forced" to go through cupboards and fridge and ruthlessly clean.

The whole goal of preparing for Passover is to rid the home of leavened products, called chametz, for the eight day period. This includes all breads. cookies, cereals, pastas, cakes - any products where grains will have made contact with water for 18 minutes or more - which would be enough time to start the leavening process. For most families, this would create a financial hardship, so any of these items that might remain in the home are packed away and not used for the eight day period. Instead, we eat matzah - which, although made with wheat, is prepared with supervision so that flour and water are mixed and baked within the 18 minute time frame. Which is why matzah is flat and hard. During the biblical exodus, there was no time for the Jews to bake bread to take with them in their hasty retreat out of Egypt. So we commemorate that exodus by eating matzah or products made with matzah meal.

Back to my kitchen - or, to be precise, my fridge. There are pitfalls to having a big fridge. It hides all sorts of sins!  Salad dressing - best before June 2009. A brand new cream cheese - best before January 2010. Tofu - best before December '09.  Past dated yogurt. This is a small sample. All get pitched. A shameful waste of money. I resolve not to buy so much in the coming year. The items that will still be good after Apr.6 are packed up and taken to the downstairs fridge. The shelves and drawers are washed and replaced, and the new foods - purchased specially for Passover - are removed from their bags and ready to use when Passover begins. A small area in the fridge contains the foods we will try to use up before Monday.
I still need to buy more groceries - primarily the fresh fruits and vegetables and other kosher for Passover groceries we will need for the coming week.

We do not use the same pots and pans and dishes during Passover that we use every day. Because they have been used with chametz, we will pack them away or tape up the cupboards in which they are housed.
Instead, we bring out of storage the several tubs containing the dishes, pots and pans that we use at Passover only. It's a little like "moving" every year at this time. Some of the cupboards are emptied, washed out, contents put into boxes for temporary storage to make room for the Passover items.

For a couple days the house looks like it has been ransacked. I think if a burglar broke in, he would leave because he would think someone beat him there. But as Passover draws nearer, order is gradually restored.


  1. Now I need a nap - it takes 2 weeks to clean and cook and clean and clean and it's all done in 8 days. The good news is that Passover is the best spring cleaning one could ever do. Chag Sameach.

  2. I just learned so much just from your post. So, I am sure just by that you must know that I am not Jewish. However, I love learning about new religions and now understand more about why you eat matzo. Very interesting and kudos on the work you do every year. I do like to spring clean but I can't imagine having to do it at a certain time every year no matter what. Now that takes dedication. I am not trying to be rude or anything like that, I mean that as a compliment and I am sure it just seems normal to someone Jewish. Just like it must seem tedious to others not Christian to have to put up a Christmas tree and do all of the other tasks that we do at that time.

    Anyway, I was just wanting to say that this post was fascinating to me and I wish you well on your continued success with your health.