SARA ELIAS

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - HOMELIFE

INEED TO come clean (pun in­tended). When this time of year rolls around, I do, I ad­mit it, be­come just a tiny bit ob­sessed with get­ting ready for Pe­sach. I have even won­dered how ac­cept­able it would be to ap­pro­pri­ate my daugh­ter’s Purim-cos­tume broom­stick as an ac­tual clean­ing im­ple­ment. And yes, I’m com­pletely aware of how ex­treme that makes me sound.

Yet Pe­sach clean­ing is ex­treme — the re­quire­ment to rid one’s home of even the most minute scrap of chametz is enough to turn all of us slightly ob­ses­sive and com­pul­sive.

It can also, I have no­ticed, make the most mild-man­nered women (and it is usu­ally al­ways a wo­man) com­pet­i­tive. Friends will en­quire, ca­su­ally, how well the Pe­sach clean­ing is go­ing, and there will en­sue an in­creas­ingly in­tense game of con­ver­sa­tional ping pong in which we try to outdo each other in terms of what has al­ready been achieved.

As with any­thing like this, the only way to sur­vive is to keep your head down and to keep your fo­cus away from what ev­ery­one else is do­ing. And in the spirit of sis­ter­li­ness (be­cause I as­sume I am talk­ing mainly to the women out there) I would like to share with you the tool to help you do this — a Pe­sach spread­sheet.

I don’t claim to have orig­i­nated this idea. I’m pretty sure I bor­rowed it from a friend. So who­ever you are (and I re­ally am very sorry to have for­got­ten), the credit goes to you.

My fam­ily think it is ut­terly hi­lar­i­ous, but I en­dure the ridicule be­cause I know — I know — that this is my life­saver.

About four weeks be­fore Pe­sach, the list goes up on the fridge door. It now runs to four A4 pages (ap­pro­pri­ately, see­ing as four is such a sym­bolic num­ber for this fes­ti­val), and is di­vided into two col­umns: ‘What is to be done’, and the much nar­rower ‘Done?’, un­der which the ticks slowly but surely (and rather hur­riedly to­wards the end) ac­cu­mu­late.

There are three sec­tions (also sym­bolic?). Rooms to be cleaned, Mis­cel­la­neous and (tak­ing up the lion’s share of space) Kitchen. It is up­dated ev­ery year, when the It was ]QN »[\] time I could say, I feel prop­erly Jewish pre­vi­ous year’s fran­tic last-minute scrawls — ‘Ex­tra car clean­ing!’, ‘Re­mem­ber to tuck tow­els in draw­ers!’ (nope, no idea, and I wrote the thing) — are in­cor­po­rated into the clean black and white of the edited doc­u­ment.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a minute pre­tend­ing that Pe­sach clean­ing is easy. The first year of our mar­riage, I was be­yond re­lieved that I was ab­solved from do­ing any of it. This was for two rea­sons — our kitchen had just been re­done, and our first child was due on the first night of the fes­ti­val.

Af­ter sub­se­quently spend­ing two less-than-re­lax­ing Pe­sachs in Ei­lat, I de­cided that the time had come to see if stay­ing at home might be worth a try. And so we did. And it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was re­ally quite OK.

I vividly re­call the first seder night that year. I sat at the ta­ble, drunk with ex­haus­tion. I had slept min­i­mally the pre­vi­ous nights — scrub­bing, re­ar­rang­ing, cook­ing — I was preg­nant, and I had never done this be­fore. I had ef­fec­tively climbed my own per­sonal Mount Ever­est. I looked around me and felt pure ela­tion — not only had I done it, but I felt, to the very core of my be­ing, the mag­nif­i­cence of be­ing a link in the chain of Jewish his­tory. Here we sat, once again, cel­e­brat­ing the mind-bog­gling story of our free­dom from slav­ery — us, and the many Jews around the world do­ing ex­actly the same at (more or less) ex­actly the same mo­ment.

I guess I must have stayed drunk for the whole of the rest of that year, be­cause I read­ily vol­un­teered to do it all again the fol­low­ing Pe­sach.

But what I found that sec­ond time around was that it was eas­ier than the first; and as the years progress, it gen­er­ally does get eas­ier the more you (or at least, I) do it. And for that I have my beloved spread­sheet to thank.

To be hon­est, I don’t just have a spread­sheet — I have an en­tire Pe­sach folder, filled with recipes and lists.

There is one list marked ‘Pe­sach 2016 recipes - what worked, what didn’t’; there is one with menu ideas; there is an­other en­ti­tled ‘Pe­sach shop­ping list 2016 (bought and used)’, at the end of which is a smaller list, headed – in a ter­ri­fy­ingly stern man­ner – ‘DON’T buy for 2017!’. And so it goes on.

Of course, it doesn’t take a ge­nius to re­alise that this is all about con­trol. (I am a Jewish mother — it is al­ways about con­trol!) Pe­sach clean­ing can be a mas­sive op­er­a­tion. No mat­ter how big or small the space you are deal­ing with, it is the psy­chol­ogy of go­ing into ev­ery cup­board, metic­u­lously clean­ing and hold­ing things up to the light, that is so daunt­ing. It can some­times feel a bit point­less, too — un­til you find those long-for­got­ten Chanukah choco­late coins at the bot­tom of the third box of toys and you think “Aha! Gotcha!”

It is as though we are climb­ing into our very souls armed with dust­pan and mop, switch­ing on a light and hav­ing a long, hard look at the place. Tra­di­tion­ally, Rosh Hashanah is a time of spir­i­tual stock-tak­ing, but for me that tends to hap­pen at Pe­sach, too. The act of clean­ing my house seems to bring with it the act of clean­ing my soul.

I can’t help think­ing that all of this is a good thing. And I know, when it is done, how good I feel. Not in a smug, look-at-me, I-didPe­sach-my­self way (well, maybe a lit­tle bit), but in a cleansed, in­vig­o­rated, ready-for-any­thing way.

In fact, I clearly felt so good about it last year that when I went to open my Pe­sach folder this year I saw that I had writ­ten my­self a note. It reads as fol­lows:

“Armed with the lists and recipes in this folder, Pe­sach can ac­tu­ally be a plea­sure! Go to it, and re­mem­ber — it’s only for eight days!”

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES (S)

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