Run-up to Pesach (Passover)

Advertisement for children's activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record
Advertisement for children’s activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record

In our old apartment, it was easy to tell Pesach (Passover) was imminent. The children in the day care across the street stopped singing about Purim and started singing parts of the Passover Haggadah. Instead of “It’s Adar, increase joy,” they sang the four questions.

But in our current apartment, there are no nearby day care facilities. So the musical cues of coming holidays are few. Although the sound of two dozen three or four year olds singing at full force isn’t exactly music.Two days ago, when I walked to the grocery store, I crossed paths with a man taking his young child home. As they walked, I could hear him helping her learn one of the four questions. As I type this, several children in the parking lot below my window are practicing the questions.

Passover is coming! Seder is Friday night.

Ad by young man looking for work cleaning for Passover
“A capable young man, known in the neighborhood, is interested in cleaning houses and courtyards” Ad posted on street

We’ve been cleaning the apartment for weeks. This year, we got smart. We hired a young man from the yeshiva to help us. He’s not some kid from the neighborhood. Although Til is from Germany, he studies full time in the English program at Machon Meir with Allen. He knows what is required in the way of Pesach cleaning, and is smart enough to follow through on instructions. Although he and Allen together moved the refrigerator and the bookcases in the salon,  he was strong enough to move the stove by himself to clean behind it. Nine hours of cleaning help from someone who knows what he’s doing makes a big difference.

Now we’re just about ready. The year-round dishes have been put in one cabinet, the pots moved to a box on the balcony, and the Passover utensils are sitting on new shelf paper in freshly cleaned cabinets. The stove is so clean, it looks new, and the inside of the refrigerator shines. Of course you can’t see that; the shelves are full of fresh vegetables for the week. The three dozen eggs I need for the holiday take up a good amount of space as well. Three dozen eggs may not sound like much for this egg-intensive holiday, but I’m not making seder. And we don’t eat sweets, so I’m not baking much either.

A month ago, around Purim time, the supermarket rearranged some displays, moving the flour and other baking supplies to where the peanut butter, jams, and condiments had been. The peanut butter and other spreads that were not strictly off limits on Passover were moved to the longer shelves where the baking supplies had been. As usual, this move drove half the customers crazy as they searched for that one last kilo of flour or package of baking powder that they will use up before the holiday. Schools are off for two weeks before the holiday and parents get desperate for activities for their children. Day camps proliferate. Many of them are run by preteen girls for neighborhood children. But Yakov and Moshe, Daniel and Aliza’s sons, are lucky; they attend a sports camp held in local park.

This is also a time when grandparents are very busy. Not only do we prepare our homes for the holiday, but we are on call for child care. This year Yocheved spent two days with us. Monday afternoon we participated in making the largest matza ever made. The activity was held at First Station, so named because it was the first Jerusalem terminus for the railroad from Jaffa. It was one of the few things built during the Ottoman period to bring the province of Southern Syria into the modern age, and opened in 1892. After many years of disuse, the station area was rehabilitated and modernized. It now houses several restaurants, stores, and amusements.

Before the actual matza baking, the children completed holiday-themed crafts projects. Yocheved colored a flat piece poster board that when folded up would be a matza box. She also decorated a bag for hiding the afikomen, the piece of matza saved for dessert at the seder.

Then it was matza baking time. One of the organizers mixed the flour and water and kneaded the dough, which he then parceled out. The children rolled out the dough and then carried it to where the big matza was being assembled. To be kosher for Passover, less than 18 minutes must elapse between pouring the water into the flour and the baking to be complete. This was not going to be a kosher-for-Passover matza. The organizers kept mixing batches of matza dough as someone else carefully pressed the small pieces of dough together.

They attached the big matza to a framework that looked like wire fencing. Another piece of metal was put on top after which they measured it: 344 centimeters, big enough to set a new record.      

Using blowtorches to cook the world's largest matza ,at First Station, Jerusalem, Israel
Using blowtorches to cook the world’s largest matza

But how do you cook a matza that is more than 11 feet across? Surely there was no nearby oven big enough. They used blow torches, of course. Two men cooked one side, and then the other side.

The matza looked all right, but we didn’t stay there to taste it. I knew none of the children had washed their hands before working with the dough and Yocheved mentioned she had seen people step on the dough as it was being assembled. Since it looked like matza, we just assumed that’s what it tasted like.

The public bulletin boards are covered with holiday related notices. Most of them are  advertisements for stores or activities. But one plain black print ad caught my attention. I have translated most of it here because I have never seen a poster like this one.

Forbidden because of fear of hametz!  

Warning against using cigarettes on Passover
Warning! Cigarettes contain hametz and are not suitable for use on Passover

Rabbi Elishav, of blessed memory:

“It is forbidden to use cigarettes without clarifying that they do not contain substances that are made from hametz.”

Rabbi Karlin:

“Using cigarettes violates the prohibition against getting pleasure from hametz during Pesach”

Rabbi Sternbuch:

“Most cigarettes are completely hametz!”

The  Rabbinical Council ofAmerica:

Philip Morris uses hametz.

Don’t smoke cigarettes during Pesach.

 I guess any reason not to smoke is a good one. I just find it a little odd that these rabbis are more worried about people violating the commandment to refrain from using hametz during this one week holiday than they are about people violating the commandment to guard their health during the rest of the year. But that opinion is just a result of my own experience taking care of critically ill people who destroyed their hearts or lungs by smoking. 

The penalty for eating Hametz on Passover is considered more severe than the penalty for not taking care of your health. I have a hard time, however, appreciating that anything can be more severe than struggling for every breath you take. 

I just hope the person in our building who smokes in the hallway sees the poster and decides not to smoke over the holiday. Then we’ll be able to keep that clean scent of freshly cleaned cabinets, floors and furniture hanging around a little longer.

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