My name is Sarah and I’m a terrible Jewish homemaker.
But it’s ok. I’m ok with it.
To prepare for Passover, Jews everywhere begin a Spring cleaning campaign that brings out the OCD in even the most relaxed homemaker. For reform Jews, this may be simply cleaning out the fridge and throwing out that old box of stale crackers. But for Orthodox Jews it’s a major undertaking that starts right after Purim.
During the 8 days of Passover, our houses are supposed to be chametz (leavened bread) free. Any possible place that could harbor a crumb has to be cleaned – floors scrubbed, pots boiled and sterilized, ovens cleaned. Some take it into other rooms too: vacuuming mattresses, shampooing carpets, washing coats, cleaning closets and detailing cars. I’m talking aluminum foil on counter tops, shrink wrapped cabinets, and dismantled furniture. Seriously.
And G-d forbid your poor child walks into your cleaned, chametz-free living room with cracker crumbs the week before Passover.
A New York Post article referred this annual binge as “spring cleaning on steroids.” That’s a pretty accurate description. (The article then goes on to tell you about a new cleaning service offered to Orthodox Jews in New York who will rid your house of any errant chametz…for a hefty fee.)
The hypocrisy of this is overwhelming. On one hand, Passover is a holiday of freedom. Remembering a time when Jews were once enslaved by Pharaoh, then led out of Egypt into freedom with the help of G-d and Moses. And yet, Jewish homemakers – the majority of whom are women (and along with their children) – are expected to not only cook a huge meal consisting of multiple dishes but also be on their hands and knees scrubbing nooks and crannies with toothbrushes and sterilizing every surface in their house for weeks beforehand. All so their husbands can come through right before Passover with a gloved hand to inspect their work. Seriously.
But, as it says in our Passover Haggadahs, on this night we relax in our chairs because, on this night, we are free. Ha! Yeah right.
In this article, and this, and this, and this, and this, Jewish women kvetch about this pressure. They talk about how Passover, which is supposed to be a joyous, family-centered holiday, is looked upon with overwhelming dread and anxiety. So much to clean, so little time.
Women are so obsessed that rabbis have come out to offer some gentle guidance and to remind us to be level headed about this cleaning. Rabbi Finklestein encourages us to not stress about the teeny tiny stuff. If it’s not fit for human consumption, fuh-get about it. If you’re not even going to use that oven, chill. Remember, you’re a queen. (Of course, Queen, when you’re done sterilizing the sink and covering it in aluminum foil, please change out all of your dinner plates, cookware and silverware.) He even goes so far as to dictate how long is the appropriate amount of time to chew each course before jumping up to get the next. Umm…thanks?
But what about “dayenu.” When is enough, really enough?
So, call me a bad balabusta. I will wear that badge with pride. Sure, our house is chametz free…ish this year. I moved all of our processed carbohydrates and rices to a top shelf. I even taped a piece of posterboard over those shelves – out of sight, out of mind, right? The bread went into the freezer. The pita chips moved down to the basement. We’ll give up bread this week but we’re not going overboard.
I’ll freely admit to you: I didn’t clean my oven (and since we’re confessing things: my oven hasn’t been cleaned since the last time my amazing mother in law did it…in July 2009.). I swept crumbs out of the cabinets but I didn’t use household cleaner. I cleared the leftover couscous and rice from the fridge but I didn’t clean the shelves. Heck, I didn’t even mop the floor (such a silly task to do before a big cooking holiday, isn’t it?!). We’re going to use the same old pots, the same old pans and the same old dishes.
For me, Passover is a time to retell the story of the Exodus, to partake in special foods and to enjoy family. It’s a time to see Sadie’s eyes light up at the utterance of “afikomen” and watch Ari enjoy his first bite of matzoh. This year, I’m freeing myself from the yoke of housework and the false expectations that a sparkling, cleaned house is somehow a reflection on my faith and my observance of this holiday.
This year, what I did is enough and I am enough.