Ah, the joys of Passover preparation. For anyone celebrating this holiday with some semblance of observance, the arrange- ments required to ready the house often seem like an additional plague. As I scan my brain for early recollections, I can feel the backaches coming on. Not to speak of the aching feet and steel-wooled hands. Ladies, this is not the time to consider a manicure!
The preparations always start with shopping. Huge quantities of stuff invade the house – and they stay in their bags, away from the chametz products of everyday life. In my home it started with cleaning products, shelving paper, aluminum foil and pota- toes – don’t ask me what the potatoes were for. If you want to do it right, counters have to be scrubbed, re-scrubbed and then totally covered with aluminum foil. Range burners have to be disinfected to the point of nearly burning down the house. Then you have to cover them with tinfoil too. Ovens have to be stripped bare, down to the primary coat of enamel. Refrigerators have to be totally emptied. (Ah, so that’s where I left the sun-dried tomatoes!) And they too have to be scrubbed down – best if you just throw it out and buy a new fridge.
Every crumb that has ever entered your home must be searched out and zapped. Nuke ‘em if you can – just get them out of there. Because then, on the eve of the first night of Pesach when you conduct the Bedikat Chametz ceremony, there must not be even microscopic evidence of the nasty leavened products. Except, of course, for the big chunks that you hide and then have to find with a feather and a candle. (I love that hide-and-seek adventure).
Every shelf you intend to use during the holiday has to be covered. Wax paper was the covering of choice in my youth. And every shelf that you don’t intend to use must be covered, wrapped, hermetically sealed – whatever – just so long as you don’t see what’s sitting on it.
And then, after you’ve schlepped up hundreds of heavy car- tons from the basement – all illegibly marked – and unwrapped all the dishes, cutlery, pots, pans, utensils, etcetera that you will use for exactly one week, you get to relocate it all in the newly covered drawers, cabinets and shelves. I am telling you right now – anyone who wants to disagree with me is welcome to, however wrong she may be – this is the hardest holiday of all, and it always falls on a woman’s shoulders. Do you think that God decided he would test every modern-day woman to see how devoted she is – by making her shlep, scrub, shop, cover, wrap and unpack?
But there’s good news. You get to buy new lipstick. That was the treat in my home, new lipstick (I was always considered too young to wear it, but Pesach brought an opportunity to enjoy Yardley Happy Pink). You also get new toothpaste (kosher of course), new toothbrushes and, best of all, new clothes. That meant a trip to New York’s Lower East Side to Berent & Smith – every Jewish girl’s favorite clothing store, where you were nobody if you didn’t get to pick up a few designer numbers for a great discounted (of course) price. And new patent leather shoes. Ooh, I loved these parts of the holiday preparations!
There were lots of fun food products that I adored (even though we were supposed to be making do with less during these times). There were Horowitz-Margareten chocolate chip cookies, for instance. I think the main ingredient was some sort of talc, but I loved them. And there was chocolate-covered matzah and Barton’s chocolates and ice cream (that was a really special treat). And almond kisses, and macaroons and chocolate- covered jellies and chocolate-covered orange rinds (still don’t get why people like those). Now that I think of it, Pesach is a chocoholic’s dream of a holiday.
On the one hand I can’t stand the thought of so many women/people having to go through the difficult preparations this holiday requires. Isn’t the fact that one has to eat matzah for an entire week enough? If you’re Sephardic, at least you get to eat rice and legumes (and I have it on good authority from a converted Ashkenazi woman that in general Sephardic food, especially on Pesach, is better). But perhaps all the fuss and hellish preparations make the holiday feel like a more special time. And maybe all this food one is “forced” to eat is really an enjoyable part of the ritual. And maybe that refrigerator really did need cleaning out.
Good luck – I’m thinking of you.
Anne Kleinberg, author of Menopause in Manhattan and several cookbooks, left a cushy life in Manhattan to begin a new one in Israel. Now she’s opened a boutique bed and breakfast in her home on the golf course in Caesarea. For details, visit www.annekleinberg. com and www.casacaesarea.com.