April 10, 2014

A Full Marathon (of cleaning)

Coca Cola issues special design for Passover .
Signs of Pesach are everywhere in Israel: at the car wash line up, in the packed grocery stores and on the roadside where  over-sized garbage bags sit filled with our chametz. Passover is even on Coke bottles and doggie food. 

And Pesach  cleaning is also in full swing. This year, I have the special privilege of preparing two homes for Passover. It is like signing up for a 10-kilometer marathon and, without training, deciding to run the full 42.195 kilometers! Two homes equals two kitchens equals heaps of work.

For this equation, I must draw deep--and I cannot sail away like the characters in my novel Let My RV Go!

Here is a description of the task at hand as narrated by Pauline in my novel.

Organized women go room by room, emptying drawers and airing out every piece of clothing. They search under beds, rustle through cupboards and dust windowsills. Their findings can be astounding. Errant Cheerios roll out between bed sheets; broken cookies are unearthed and pockets are emptied of stale candy. It is a ritualized, intensive spring cleaning of sorts. And when a room is complete, a sign goes up on the door: Chametz-free Zone. Of course, the true translation of this sign is “Children stay out.” For some reason, children are endemic chametz carriers. It sticks to them like glue.

When I start seeing Manischewitz matzah boxes in the kosher aisle, I wish someone would invent a detector that sniffs chametz from a mile away. It would look like an x-ray machine, similar to those you find at the airport. Our kids would pass through after school every day, and if there is a particle of chametz on them, a big siren would blare. Of course, the Jewish mother is the best chametz detector of all. When she is in pre-Pesach mode, nothing slips by her. Go ahead, just try to smuggle a cookie into a home that is kosher for Passover.

After the bedrooms and living rooms have been cleaned from top to bottom, on go the rubber gloves and the elbow grease. It is time to clean the kitchen. This can take days and in some cases, I see lights on in homes all night long. Kitchen cupboards are cleaned and lined with shelf paper. Fridges, stoves and ovens are scrubbed. All chametz food is removed and a separate set of meat and dairy Pesach dishes replaces the everyday dishes. Dusty boxes filled with Pesach cutlery, glasses, pots, pans and cooking utensils are shlepped up from the basement. The work is so thorough, it feels as if we move into a brand new house every spring.

Pauline opts out and hires an RV so she sail away and clean a dashboard for Pesach. This is the season to read all about her adventure in Let My RV Go!  I too have many friends who are quietly locking their doors and going to resorts for Passover, breathing a sigh of relief at avoiding this greasy ritual. But I, who have a bounty of cleaning ahead of me, must look at my work in a positive light.

I establish that cleaning is good exercise; it enables me to stretch, bend, lift, pull and toss. It is true cardio as I run up and down stairs scrambling to find misplaced items. I heave furniture from corners, releasing dust bunnies into the air, pull out ovens, uncovering entire new continents of dirt and heave the dining room table across the gritty, dusty floor like a Viking longboat rower. No need for a gym these days. Or yoga, I realize, as I reach up on tip toes to dust high shelves, then stretch my hamstrings to pick up the dropped cloth. Continuously. Repetitively.

Cleaning two homes is also a great time to focus and to evaluate what I really need. It teaches me that I actually have too much in two places. And, cleaning is actually spiritually uplifting.
I even have chametz-free dog food called Focus.

Uplifting? Did I say that?

I empty my kitchen drawers and wipe them down. Tossing out broken items and creating a growing giveaway pile of unused utensils and pans, I keep in mind that order equals freedom.

“Ah ha” I say, throwing out about a dozen lidless glass jars, giving my pantry newfound order, “this is a form of liberation.”

My neat pantry and spice cupboard actually give me a peaceful state of being. And as I start to dust and sponge the cupboards, I realize that my mind has become uncluttered.

In a Torah class, I recently learned that structure gives meaning to our lives. And physical order can lead to a spiritual order.  We do not have to look too far to realize that order is a large theme of Passover. The word ‘seder’ means order and the entire Haggadah begs us to follow a strict order of operation. Once complete, the goal is to achieve spiritual freedom.

So my start to this freedom is a clean house. Or two twinkling houses. I may have a sore back, elongated hamstrings and calloused hands.  I may feel like I did a full marathon and moved into a brand-new house; yet I know it will be satisfying to have order in my home and my mind. These will make my spirit sparkle as we sit down to our Passover seder.

Wishing everyone a chag kasher v’sameach, a holiday that is spiritually uplifting and filled with personal liberation.

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