This post first appeared in 2007. I’ve updated and republished it with today’s date. I’ve also made a new page for all my Passover posts. Enjoy!
The Pesach Problem, or Why I Don’t Trust Anyone Who Says You Can Make Pesach in Four Hours
Around this time of year, you’ll see reprints of articles about how dirt isn’t chametz and how you can prepare your house for Pesach in just a few hours. The authors usually go on to say that you should be spending the weeks before the holiday on outings with your children, who are on vacation.
These rabbis are well-meaning, but they misunderstand the reality of most observant Jewish households. What makes Pesach difficult isn’t just having to scrub the stove or clean the refrigerator. You are planning for the most important and elaborate meal of the year, while making your house kosher for Pesach and having your small children underfoot.
You can’t just do a regular grocery shopping—you need to fight crowds and shlep home enough to restock your entire kitchen. Everyone needs new clothes and shoes at the same time. You have to plan where guests will sleep, supervise the kids’ cleaning or do it yourself, and make sure you have enough Pesach pots. (I’m convinced that mine shrink every year.) We’re lucky if we have a chance to make plans for chol hamoed–the intermediate vacation days of the holiday.
The Real Passover Problem
As an experienced homemaker, I could handle all of the above with aplomb. That still isn’t the main problem. What makes Pesach hard is that day-to-day life continues throughout these weeks. Dust and dirt don’t take a break for the holiday—Pesach preparations make more dirt! After all, we want to sit down to the Seder in a house that is not only chametz-free but also clean. Same with the laundry, which must all be completed by midday on Pesach eve. (I do minimal laundry during the week of the holiday.)
Doctor, dentist and optometrist visits inevitably find their way into the mix, as do weddings and bar mitzvahs. Appliances always seem to break around this time of year. When you take out the Pesach utensils at least one thing is missing or unusable, requiring yet another visit to the store. Older children can help but they also need rides and other types of attention. Younger children need supervision, cuddling and stories. And if you postpone important tasks they won’t happen until after Passover, when it could be too late.
And let’s not forget the meals. Unless you have a budget and source for take-out food, or nearby family going away for the holiday, you still need to feed your kids. Heck, providing meals for my family is practically a full-time job even when I’m not making Pesach. I’m thinking of starting a competition for families to see who can use up the most leftover chametz without being reduced to bread and peanut butter.
I still haven’t figured out how to make Shabbat Hagadol, since the seder is on Monday night. Should I cook double in advance and eat reheated food, or turn over the kitchen early and make the food kosher for Passover? Or cook as usual, but very simply? Once I make a decision I’ll work out the details but the logistics of figuring out when to put which dishes where are complicated enough to make anyone crazy.
Fortunately my inner pre–Pesach mechanism will kick in, as it tells me what tasks to do when. For instance, when I take out the Pesach dishes I automatically make hard-boiled eggs and fresh mayonnaise (no running between stores to get that last elusive jar). After lunch before the seder I grate horseradish and make charoset.
Don’t worry if you are new at this. Your inner Pre-Pesach Mechanism takes time to mature.
Read more Passover recipes and tips at Cooking Manager.
I’ve updated a page with Passover posts from A Mother in Israel.