No matter how hard I try, and believe me, I have and do try, passing over Passover is very hard to do if you live in Israel. The countdown to the festival begins for some people one month beforehand, namely, as soon as the previous festival is over and done with, and these preparations involve intensive and extensive cleaning operations. In Gentile lands this is known as ‘spring cleaning,’ and seems to be taken with only slightly less seriousness than the all-encompassing scrubbing, washing, sweeping and dusting that pre-Passover cleaning involves.
The problem with the Jewish festivals is that they all seem to involve special foods, eaten in a special way, and at Passover this also involves special dishes from which to eat them and special pots and pans in which to prepare them. In my parents’ home, and doubtless in their parents’ homes, too, the days and nights before the first festive Passover meal, known as the Seder, or ‘order’ (not of the military kind), involved endless trips up and down stairs to attics and closets where the special dishes and pots and pans were kept throughout the year. It also involved stowing away the everyday dishes and pots and pans, making the final days before embarking on the extensive cooking undertaking a logistical nightmare.
Luckily, my immediate family doesn’t bother about such niceties, and I am free to make my own arrangements. When my parents were alive and would spend part of the festival in my house I made a huge effort and made our crockery ‘kosher’ for Passover, and even used special pots and pans for preparing the Seder meal. I’m not glad that my parents are no longer with us, but it does certainly let me off the hook when it comes to religious observance. My sisters’ obscenely high level of religious observance won’t allow them to set foot in my house during this or any other Jewish festival, and perhaps it’s just as well.
But some token level of observance seems to be incumbent upon even the most atheistic and unbelieving of souls, such as myself. It is a time of family gatherings and as usual food occupies pride of place. So in addition to some pathetic attempts at cleaning my house, I prepared lists in the time-honoured tradition of my mother, and her mother before her, presumably. The Seder meal, with most of the family present at our table, was due to be held on Monday night. This meant that the count-down would have to leave two whole days beforehand for cooking and baking, a day before that for final cleaning operations and getting the guest beds ready, and a day before that for last-minute shopping, the meat for the Seder having been bought a week before that and placed in the freezer that had been specially cleaned to receive its precious contents.
Everything went according to plan. The daily schedules were carefully read and adhered to, and quantities of roast beef, cooked tongue, chopped liver, chicken soup and other traditional foods were prepared well in hand. The trusty Jewish cookbook first put out by Florence Greenberg in 1947 (my edition is from 1968, and was professionally rebound by my father’s friend, Moshe Tiefenbrunner after it literally fell to pieces in my hands) still serves me for the recipe for matza balls (kneidlech), as well as reminding me what symbolic items to put on the special Seder plate, and I was feeling pleased with myself as the night of the Seder approached.
But lo and behold, both husband and I came down with bad coughs and colds. The idea of cancelling the whole affair was out of the question, so we soldiered on, accompanied by boxes of tissues and a cacophony of coughs and sneezes. The family did their best to ignore our infirmity, lending a hand where they could, and carrying on regardless as far as possible. After the meal it is customary to sing jolly songs, sometimes accompanying them with funny actions, and in order not to disappoint our grandchildren this was duly done. After we had finished, including going through the weekly general-knowledge quiz provided by the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper, I had to choose between falling asleep at the table or taking myself off to bed, and I opted for the latter, leaving the debris and detritus to whoever felt up to dealing with them.
When I got up the next day some of the decks had been cleared, but there were still a few jobs to be done, and in the morning light I felt recovered enough to tackle them.s