All this, for one week in the year!

I know 'dirt ain't hametz,' but it sure feels as if it is.

cleaning supplies 88 (photo credit: )
cleaning supplies 88
(photo credit: )
Each year I promise myself that next year will be different. It has long been a dream of mine to glide into Pessah without any tension or worry. I imagine many other women share that dream. In the households of the religiously observant, Pessah cleaning starts the day after Purim. Of course it's a lot easier in haredi homes, where there are generally a lot of children and therefore extra pairs of hands to help with the work. In addition, when cleaning is a mitzva rather than a chore, the whole approach is different. Instead of resenting the burden, many Orthodox Jews joyfully get down to the task so that on the morning before Seder night, the house, no matter how impoverished the family might be, is gleaming - and there isn't a trace of hametz anywhere. I envy people who can get their houses to look like that. My mother had the knack - but apparently it's not in the genes. My mother, who was the Polish version of a Jewish American Princess, had never boiled a kettle of water before she got married, let alone wielded a broom. But once she got to Australia, where her fortunes dwindled, she quickly learned all the arts and techniques of housekeeping, became an excellent cook and professional caterer, and always cleaned our house from floor to ceiling before the cleaning woman came. A CLEANING woman wouldn't know where to start in my house. Newspapers and books are strewn everywhere, as are printouts from the Internet. Everything is important and mustn't be moved by anyone but yours truly, because I'm the only one who can navigate the mess. My friend Norma, who occasionally cleaned my apartment when she lived in Jerusalem, would pick piles of newspapers up from the table and put them in tote bags, just to make things a little tidier. "I know," she would say, "this is your research. It has to be where you can reach it easily." Well, Norma's in Tel Aviv these days, and I couldn't depend on her having time to come to Jerusalem to give my apartment a little spit and polish. So I planned to start throwing things out straight after Purim - and I actually did, but more things kept materializing. It was like opening a closet that's stuffed to capacity in order to remove one item; everything else falls out. A WEEK before Pessah my apartment still looked as if it had been hit by a tornado. One thing I do enjoy is cleaning windows, and I'd actually planned to clean a couple a day in the first light of dawn during pre-Pessah week. But of course it rained, and gale-force winds blew dust everywhere. Sparkling windows have always been an inspiration in the past. Somehow, even if I left things to literally the last moment, I managed to get them done if the windows were clean. Now the windows are dirty, and the balconies are even filthier. I know "dirt ain't hametz," but it sure feels as if it is. I feel tremendous sympathy for all those women who scrubbed their windows and balconies ahead of time and who are going to invest more time doing so again because of the unexpected rains. Cleaning, of course, is only the half of it. Pessah shopping is another headache, especially for those of us who are finicky Ashkenazim and can't eat legumes. ACROSS THE road from The Jerusalem Post is a gigantic supermarket that caters primarily to a haredi clientele whose pre-Pessah inventory precludes any products that are not labeled "Kosher for Pessah." And then it can't be just any old label. It has to bear the name of a particular rabbi, rabbinical court or rabbinical council. Along all the aisles, whole families come on shopping expeditions, turning items of merchandise around to find the seal of approval, and then peering carefully to see under whose supervision the item was produced. This scrutiny goes beyond edibles. It also applies to toiletries and detergents. Shopping carts are filled with silver foil and plastic sheeting to put on all the surfaces in the kitchen. Denizens of apartments whose kitchen sinks cannot be kashered because they are made of porcelain (not stainless steel) add plastic sinks replete with drainage hole to their purchases. All this for one week in the year! It's no wonder that a lot of women don't enjoy Seder night. They're too exhausted. In the old country, even if they fell asleep at the table on the first night, they could at least enjoy the second Seder without strain. Not in Israel, where there's only one Seder and no chance to catch up on missed opportunities. As far as my cleaning goes, next year will be different. I know I'm not the only one who says that - but it's no consolation.