Getting ready for Pesach (Passover)

When I was growing up, this was the time of year when we would

City of Jerusalem Pesach cleanup

eagerly anticipate signs of Spring. In Pennsylvania, the earliest sign was the bright yellow flowers of the forsythia, often in February. Soon the shadiest spot in our back yard would turn from ice to mud. The slender dark green crocus stems would poke through the ground, quickly followed by lavender, purple, and white flowers. Then the broader daffodil stems, followed by their yellow and white blooms. The pink and white dogwood trees framed the springtime blue sky.

In Israel, Spring is not so much associated with blooming flowers, as with blooming dumpsters. The Holiday of Spring is coming. The holiday is also called Passover (Pesach) and the Holiday of Matzot.Since it is a religious duty to rid the house of all chametzleavened food and food that could become leavened, everyone is busy cleaning. And when the whole country cleans up, the dumpsters overflow.

Last week, the municipality published its annual notice stating what it is doing to help us get ready for the holiday. As the notice states, trash pickups will be done more frequently for two weeks. All over the country, we take trash out to the big green dumpsters conveniently parked in the street every block or two. They occupy what could be two or three parking spaces, often in areas short on parking.

Dumpster at 8 AM

In Kiryat Moshe, the neighborhood where I live, the dumpsters this week were emptied every day around 8 AM. By 5 PM, they were overflowing again. The two recycling containers on the corner (one for plastic bottles and one for paper) have also been filling faster than usual.

Same dumpster, 22 hours later

Furthermore, cleaning help is being advertised all over the place. It seems as if part of the Yeshiva education experience is hiring yourself out to clean someone’s house for Pesach. Several of our dinner guests recently mentioned cleaning disgusting ovens when they were students.

A post on  on the neighborhood women’s electronic bulletin board mentioned two boys were available to help clean. If interested, we should call the mother of one of them to make arrangements in English, or her son to do so in Hebrew. I called her, but she did not answer the phone. So I called her son. Although we made the arrangements speaking Hebrew, I suspect his English is probably as good as my Hebrew. His friend, of course, can’t understand English.

Ads for cleaning help on street light pole

In ulpan, we never learned the vocabulary for cleaning materials or for all the different parts of a stove. I may have paid them more than I should have because discussing what needed to be done required much conversation, as well as pointing and gesturing on my part. The two young men spent several hours cleaning my stove and and some cabinets. But the kitchen is on its way to being ready for the holiday.

The grocery store has not changed its wares or displays very much. I discovered this week that canned tomatoes and tuna fish I usually buy are both kosher for Pesach. When I rearrange the kitchen and take out all the non-Pesach food, I’ll keep those items handy. But I do need to remember to take my magnifying glass with me this week. The “Kosher for Pesach” notation on food packages tends to be small. And the notice about the presence of kitniyot (foods that contain legumes, rice, or oil from certain classes of vegetables) is minute. Being Ashkenazim, of Eastern European descent, we do not eat kitniyot, so being able to read that label is important.

Coke Zero with greeting “Happy Holiday”

Nonetheless, I became confused while reading the labels at the soft drinks section, particularly in front of the Coca-Cola display. The Coke Zero bottles all have Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday) in large letters on their label. However, on the other side of the bottle it clearly states the product is kosher for use only during the rest of the year. Only regular Coca-Cola is kosher for Passover. 

Take time from cleaning to buy yourself some jewelry!

In the middle of all the cleaning and preparing, we are also reminded to take care of ourselves. This is a special time of year, and we should enjoy it. That bright yellow signs were posted at neighborhood bus stops urging women to stop cleaning Sunday evening. Instead, we should come to a giant sale of cosmetics and gold-filled jewelry to be held at a local synagogue social hall.

There is the usual hurry and tension involved in getting everything super clean for Pesach before it starts this Friday evening. And despite needing to do all the required special shopping and cooking, things are somehow calmer than might be expected. The lines in the stores are longer than usual, but there is less impatience than usual. We look at each other in line, and shrug our shoulders, as if to say, “What else can you expect this close to the holiday?”

Somehow or other, with G-d’s help, everything does get done.

When we say the blessing thanking G-d for keeping us alive and enabling us to reach the holiday, we do so with full hearts, and a touch of relief. The work is done–now let’s enjoy the holiday!