Tag Archives: Pesach

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.

Getting ready for Pesach (Passover)

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

Pesach cleanup ad by city of Jerusalem
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 a week and a half before Pesach
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.

Pre-Pesach dumpster overflows with trash
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 Pesach cleaning help on street light pole
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 carrying greeting "Happy Holiday" for Passover
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. 

Sign for Pesach jewelry sale
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!