It's Still Winter, But I'm Already Cleaning for Passover

Swept into the supermarket on a blast of cold air, my momentary fright is distracted by a tower of sparkling kosher grape and a scarier thought: “What a great price! Better stock up for Pesach.” And this was almost three months ago.

Passover casts its shadow chez-nous in the darkest, shortest days of winter. Like the fashion biz, I work at least a season ahead to prepare for the holiday.

Because a lesson well-learned is usually a hard one: got sloppy once, left too much too late, and wiped out at the seder table. Failed the sobriety test too: couldn’t walk a straight line from dining room to kitchen. Had to be revived by Passover smelling salts: a box of lush chocolates waved under my nose. Came to vowing never again to find myself on hands and knees, stinking of raw gefilte fish, scrubbing the kitchen floor an hour before Yom Tov.

A veteran of some 30 holiday-cleaning runs, I knew that nothing short of a strategic overhaul was necessary to avert future crashes.

To borrow from the playbook of sports coaching, I did a post-game analysis, room by room, closet by closet, on how and when they were Pesach-proofed.

The critique: too much energy was drained cleaning ‘easy’ rooms first, while jobs unrelated to purging hametz (washing curtains, dusting bookcases) were interfering with the later-stage heavy lifting.

The solution: Break my energy’s boom/bust cycle, reorder work flow and pace myself better. The following year, I introduced lists and timetables to clean smarter and more efficiently, along with improved shmutz-busters, like wooden shish kebob skewers to poke out hard-to-reach dirt.

Since then, my annual race to the Pesach finish line gets under way post-Hanukkah, when I assemble a small trousseau of cleaning supplies. This inoculates against rising panic, with the calendar’s reminder that Passover and Rosh Hashanah are equidistant.

In January, small things get done and by February, certain big jobs move to the head of the line: the dining room is cleaned and closed by Purim. Tasks are alternated, to give either my feet or back a rest. And the kitchen is no longer attacked in a 72-hour blitz, but broken down into manageable bites over several weeks. Best new idea: a roll of kraft paper protects the floor washed a week in advance.

My holiday shopping habits have gotten a makeover, too. Pesach is my one concession to home-made gefilte fish, but only tickets to a Stones concert sell out faster than live carp. To avoid the rush (and disappointment), Pesach fish goes into the freezer, chopped carp and all, as soon as it’s available.

Because at the seder table, I want to appreciate the holiday’s theme of liberation, not have, like the title of the Stones song, a “19th Nervous Breakdown.”

Your Stories

  • "This holiday we take for ourselves,
 no longer silent servers behind the curtain, 
but singers of the seder,
 with voices of gladness,
 creating our own convocation,
 and leaving ‘The Narrow Place’ together."E.M. Broner

  • "The idea of opening the door is that we hope Elijah might actually be there this year – that we might actually have done enough to change the world to have had him arrive. And, if we don’t have even the tiniest bit in us that thinks he might be there, that thinks we have tried our hardest to bring around a messianic time, with no hunger, no war, no conflict, no pain – if we don’t believe that we have tried to end those broken parts in the world – well, then I tell my students – don’t do any of it."Rabbi Leora Kaye

  • "The whole seder, for me, is the tension between two statements: We say, 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and now we’re free,' but before that, we pick up the matzoh, we invite the hungry in and we say, 'This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.' We are the most fortunate, liberated Jews in history. But on the other hand, there are lots of things that enslave us."Rabbi Arthur Green

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