2018-03-14 / Voice at the Shore

Pesach: Hard work that’s worth it

By ELLIE KREMER Conservative Rebbetzin of Shirat Hayam


ELLIE KREMER ELLIE KREMER Pesach is coming! Pesach is coming!

For some of us, those words instill dread: the cleaning, the cooking, the guest list… For me, Pesach means hard work, yes, and it means the rewards of revisiting traditions, legacies and nostalgia. Maybe it’s my husband’s grandfather’s silver kiddush cup; maybe it’s the painted plastic goblet (for Miriam’s cup) our child made in Hebrew school some years ago.

Is it time to make new hand-drawn tablecloths (fabric crayons or markers on twin-size sheets)? Is there a new Haggadah that offers a different perspective on the story of our people’s exodus from Egypt?

At your seder, a touch of creativity or just a change from the usual can add a lot to the appreciation of this ancient festival. The littlest ones might get into a matzah scavenger hunt. Or, now that the kids are older, is it appropriate to reconsider the ten plagues as more than opportunities to throw cotton balls or little plastic frogs at one another? (A few resources are listed at the end of this article.)

These kinds of things — doing just a little more beyond the menus and seating plan — can make your Seder warmer and more personal.

OK, let’s get back to preparing for Pesach. It is a lot of work: we are transforming our kitchens from the everyday to the special for just eight days. That means thorough cleaning, scrubbing, wiping, vacuuming; it means trading out the regular dishes, pots and utensils for the Pesach versions that have been stored away the rest of the year.

When our daughters were young (they are now Rabbi Aviva Fellman, Jewish educator Devora Rohr, and Israeli social worker Hannah Kremer), they helped with the general cleaning, but their major task was their Little Tikes play kitchen. They removed the toy bread, challah, waffles, muffins, dishes, etc., and, after washing down the kitchen, replaced them with fruits, vegetables, wooden matzah, and plastic dishes stored away with the real Pesach dishes.

Even back then, I worked from a notebook that I’d been keeping and revising since 1997. The notebook lists each year’s Seder guests and menus, the food items we’d packed away (e.g., spices, tea bags, or unopened cocoa), the utensils or cookware we’d need to buy for next year, the glassware and silver that we would be kashering...

Since 1997, whether we were hosting my whole family (starting with 23 at the table) or having a more intimate seder with friends, that notebook has been indispensable in helping me plan out everything from when I would clean the kitchen to what main meals I’d be putting together the rest of the week — and what ingredients I’d need for them.

Someone asked me; why I bother with the cleaning and all that? Why not either go away for Pesach or use disposable everything? And since the seders are the part of Pesach that really matters, why not just do them and forget about the rest of the week?

I bother because I care. I care about the transformation, the reminder that our lives can and should be interrupted for important connections to our collective Jewish past and to my personal, family history through traditions. I care that we take the time to remind ourselves that long ago we were slaves, and because of that we need to be sensitive to the refugee, the poor, to those who have few choices. It doesn’t mean we have all the answers, but, like the four questions at the seder, we need to ask.

Readying the kitchen, making recipes from my mother and my husband’s grandmother, talking with my daughters about their Passover preparations, pulling out the embroidered matzah covers, I am transported to years past and I look forward to the years ahead.

Once my husband, Rabbi Jonathan Kremer, and I have searched for the Hametz (B’dikat Hametz) and burned a symbolic amount of forbidden food (Bi’ur Hametz), when the counters are covered and the kitchen is sparkling, I feel a deep and spiritual sense of renewal. Spring has arrived, family and friends gather, and, yet again, we are about to tell and thereby relive our story.

Chag sameach! May you have a joyful Pesach! 

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