Tag Archives: cleaning

Cleansing your sins for Passover? It’s time to start preparing.

“My mother never wanted a cleaning lady to help (for Passover) because she believed that wherever you were cleaning your chametz, you were also cleaning your avonot — your sins. She used to tell my older sister who was not yet married, ‘Clean more, more, more and the chattan (groom) will come faster.'”

— Sonia Arusy (Tunisian)

MorgueFile_sunset2_blogThe holiday of Passover in truth begins today, when we sweep up fallen Hamantaschen crumbs from Purim and start the methodical process of cleaning out our homes from top to bottom. Back a few generations ago, the act of cleaning was taken very seriously in eastern countries. In wealthy homes in Morocco (where hiring help was affordable), individuals were paid to remove ALL of the stuffing from every pillow and mattress, pick it clean, stuff it back in, and sew the cases back up. Some individuals from India noted that their walls were all freshly painted, and their floors stained, while in Ethiopia it was commonplace to break all of the pottery (including bowls, cups, plates, and pots) from the past year and buy new ones beginning with Passover. In Egypt and Lebanon, copper pots were brought to specialists who would clean and polish them until they became almost white in appearance, a process called imbay’yid (meaning, “to whiten” in Arabic). And overall in many of these communities, it was essential for the whole family to go to a seamstress or tailor a few weeks before the Seder to get measured for new clothing, which was often made of a white cloth.

What is most interesting is the connection of cleaning one’s house to cleansing one’s soul. As with most Jewish rituals, the physical act of observance is often tied to something deeper, higher, and more spiritual. There is an old saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” which is derived from a basic principle mentioned throughout the Bible. In the passage Exodus 19:10 (Oxford Annotated Bible), the Lord tells Moses: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready by the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” From this we learn that in order to receive God, it is important to cleanse oneself on the outside as a step towards spiritual purification (for the inside). During the weeks and days leading up to Passover we take the time to cleanse our homes and ourselves so that by the eve of the Seder we are ready to receive God once again, and remember how our ancestors were once freed to start anew.

Question: How do you prepare for the coming holiday?  

Time to sort the rice: Let the preparations for Pesach begin!

Rice_BlogNow that Purim is over, many individuals begin their Passover cleaning as early as today, one month before the holiday begins. It can be a meticulous period, especially if you have a large house with multiple rooms and floors. One of the most time consuming and important tasks to complete for many of the communities that I had interviewed was the process of sorting and cleaning large quantities of rice for the holiday, as it needed to last the entire week for the whole family. Some individuals even explained how it could take weeks to do, as only small portions would be sorted through each day, grain by grain, only to be sorted again two more times before being considered clean for Passover. While many may only do a good cleaning a week or just days before, I spoke to some individuals who went as far as the following in their homes:

Iran, Syria, India, Iraq: The purchasing and sorting of rice grains (this could take several weeks to do as each grain was individually checked, discarding any broken pieces or grains of wheat that might have gotten mixed in).

India: Purchasing, sorting, roasting, and grinding of fresh spices
(this may have been done as early as 2 months ahead!)

Morocco: Removing the stuffing from all pillows and mattresses, washing the outside cases,
then re-stuffing them with new, fresh cotton (that has been sorted for cotton seeds or bugs).

Ethiopia: Making all new ceramic dishes, bowls, cups, and even pots by hand in time for the holiday
(the previous year’s dishes and pots would ALL be broken then discarded a few days before Seder).

Egypt, Morocco, Iran: Washing and painting of all the interior walls of the house.

Yemen, Egypt, Iran: Buying a young lamb and raising it on the terrace or in backyard before slaughtering it for the Passover Seder night (this might have started 2 months before).

QUESTION:
How early did your family start preparing for the holiday,
and what were the first things that you would do?

Purim is over and the countdown has begun: Time to start that spring cleaning!

Broom_MorgueFileNow that Purim has ended the official countdown to Passover has begun folks! This is the time when many Jews begin the step-by-step process of cleaning their house, or apartment (or even office) from top to bottom. Some might take this very seriously by cleaning one room at a time and then closing it off until the first Seder night, while others who have the possibility to go away for the whole week of Passover try to avoid the process entirely. While growing up in New York City in the late ’60s/early ’70s, my parents didn’t really adhere to any particular cleaning ritual. Instead we just tried to finish off whatever bread products we still had in the house by the time the first Seder began, and then allowed only matzah into the kitchen for the duration of the holiday week. But whether it is because I have always been somewhat of a compulsive cleaner, or because I just happen to find some kind of peace in tradition, I have always been fascinated by the ritual of cleaning for this holiday.

As I conducting interviews with Sephardic Jews about their overall memories of Passover while growing up, I was struck by how early their families had begun to prepare for the holiday, and how committed they were to every cleaning detail. Their childhood memories of Passover in the Old Country were vivid and nostalgic, and they appeared to literally light up as they described to me what they and their family did at home. But what was most interesting was that while they didn’t really want to continue the effort it would take to keep up these traditions, they recognized at the same time that something had been lost. They missed the feeling that they once got from the cleaning rituals that made the holiday more special. They also missed knowing that it was something that they shared with others who were doing the same thing in their community. By the time the first night of the Seder arrived, they were more than ready, perhaps as if they had earned it in some way. The Seder itself marked the separation between “old” and “new,” or more significantly, before the Exodus from Egypt and after. In fact the more I spoke to them I realized that the Passover holiday didn’t really begin with the first Seder at all, but rather with the first day of cleaning — the day after Purim — which culminated in the Passover holiday one month later. Without this period of cleaning, organizing, and planning for the Seder, the Passover holiday itself would have been less meaningful to them.

Here is some of what Renée, a Moroccan-born Jew living in Queens, shared with me regarding her memories for the preparations of the holiday:

“My mother used to start koshering the house a month before. We had three bedrooms, so she used to start always with our bedroom, then her bedroom, then the dining room, and the kitchen was the last thing that she used to kosher. A man would come to redo all the mattresses in the house, like the wool that was inside. We used to pay him and I remember the wool, it was like spring cleaning. He would sew them back together with a big needle. It was beautiful, everything was new. The dishes were new, the tablecloth was new — you felt the holiday. The last day, before the holiday, we almost ate outside — almost in the stairs because the bread was out of the house. We used to have a big hallway, and three bedrooms. The toilet was in front, and in back you had the kitchen and three bedrooms, so we were almost at the door or at the stairs by the last day. And every neighbor used to do the same, so you really felt the holiday. The cooking…”

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