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My Favorite Jewish Holiday


There’s an extremist in me. I aim for the Maimonidean golden medium for my character and temperament, but underneath it is raving Baal Teshuva. I think that’s why the old joke matching Jewish holidays to psychological disorders spoke to me. Pesach is the outlet for those who get a spiritual satisfaction of being relentlessly thorough, and Pesach takes this urge to a tangible crescendo.

The great thing about Judaism, though, is that there is an inherent balance. For every law that seems extreme or regimented, there is a delicious freedom attached. My search, then, (my avodah), is to find the balance in Passover. In some senses, the holiday has a similar payoff to those who value a throwback to the simple life before preservatives and corn syrup. The freedom is found in the minimalism; imagine a table set with fresh unseasoned fish, fresh vegetables, and simplified home with the superfluous nonsense locked away, the floors gleaming from being freshly scrubbed with lemon juice. There is a breathtaking purity in the rigidity of the Pesach restrictions, that leaves so much mental room open to processing our ancestor’s freedom.

The seder may have a strict time limit in order to get to the afikomen by midnight, but this setup lends itself to focus and intensity. During the intermediate days of Pesach, family time and festive adventures are encouraged, all while dressed slightly nicer and still sticking to the simple foods.

Last Pesach, I hosted my first sedarim and cleaned my own apartment for the first time. It was right before I got engaged to my now-husband, and thoughts were on my mind of my future as a builder of a Jewish home. A Jewish home is the most sacred place in Jewish life, and this was my first apartment with my name on the lease. It was mine, and it became Pesachdik. I hosted sedarim with friends and coworkers, making the components of the seder plate with intent and concentration. That Pesach, I became a generational link. Now that I am married and am spending the holiday with my husband’s family, I look forward to being a link among a new extended family as well as a link through time.

That is my own personal balance I make for myself. As a self-proclaimed extremist blazing ahead on my spiritual path, the human connections I have to develop ground me. Pesach is the most intense time for spiritual growth and the most intense time for family bonding. I will always remember the jarred gefilte fish, Passover dishes, my dad’s theatrical reading of the Haggadah, the frog dance of my sisters during the 10 plagues, and my mother’s matzah brei from my traditional upbringing. Now, with a new husband and new group of in-laws, I can create new memories. The interpersonal and the intrapersonal are interwoven in Jewish life, and Pesach takes this to their most elevated heights.

That is why Pesach is my favorite Jewish holiday.

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I am a Cleaner After All

My friend changed her Facebook status [around 3 minutes after she finished her Purim Seudah] to “wake me up after Pesach!”

I felt the same. At the end of Purim, I say (with fear in my voice) “4 weeks to pesach!” Motzei Pesach I say “4 months to Tisha Be’Av” and as I break my fast “8 weeks to Yom Kippur” and then “2 months to Chanukah” and on the 8th day I start planning my Mishloach Manot, after all it is “3 months to Purim!”

Am I not the happiest person ever? I am always counting down to the next Jewish Day.

As Jewish women, we spend our lives planning and preparing for the next occasion, the next Simcha, and/or the next Yom Tov. We always have something to do that involves panic and often a fear or two as well. Let me introduce you to some of my choice phrases that come to mind for said times of the year:

“Oh my g-d did you really just ask me for a cookie? Do you really think I will bake so close to Pesach? If you are hungry eat the dust mites that need to be gone anyway!”

“Of course the Menorah looks shiny I spent 3 days scrubbing it. You helped? Yes you turned off the water when I couldn’t move my hands anymore!”

“If you get drunk, I will not clean up your vomit! You will sleep outside and will not come into my house until you are sober and showered! Take point, do not get drunk on Purim!”

And so they go on.  I really am a nice person, but there are some things about certain times in the Jewish calendar that get my ‘yiddisher mama’ instincts out and put my girly-moody-terror swings into full force. And Pesach is not only one of them, it is the main one.

I grew up with a real Jewish mother who would pester my father from Chanukah to Chanukah “spider webs are Chametz, they must not be seen on Pesach and you must take them down before next Pesach!” So you can see why I get this fear when someone mentions the “P” word, I mean how am I meant to have a house so clean for Pesach that there are no cobwebs, when there are no cobwebs to begin with?! How will I know when I am done?!

Or maybe I am never done because as soon as I am done ‘Pesach cleaning’ away the Chametz, I must clean up the Pesach food and dishes, and then change back to Chametz and then clean up the crumbs from the pizza and then make shabbos and clean up again and clean and clean….


I just realized the point of what I am trying to say.

When someone tells you “such a true yiddisher mama” or “you are a real Balaboosta” or (best one ever said to me) “your house is always so clean and you always have such good food!” what do they really mean?

“Hey you are such a great cleaning lady!!!”

And we are right?  After all, everything we do involves cleaning or cooking or looking after the kids, or cleaning some more.

So I sign off with the following:

If Pesach starts getting you down, just think it as 6 months to Tishrei (3 times 3 day Yom Tovs!) and that has to be harder than this. If you think your house isn’t clean enough, it obviously isn’t! Find your husband and get him to help. If you don’t think you will be able to clean everything and shop for food, wash dishes and kids clothes, and then cook and dress the kids – then go have a cup of tea. G-d will help you figure it out eventually. After all, no one ever came to Seder night and had to eat challah!

Happy Pesach Cleaning  🙂

Photohraph by Rivka Bauman Photography