Just chametz

This post is the tenth in a series about 25 years living in Israel.


These days many Jews in Israel and elsewhere engage in Pesach cleaning. The purpose is to make the house free from anything that was made with sourdough or yeast (chametz), as chametz is not supposed to be in a Jewish home during Passover. Passover is the celebration of the exodus from Egypt, when the Israelites had no time to let their bread rise. They had to make unleavened bread because they were in a hurry. As a remembrance they were commanded to eat unleavened bread for 7 days every year at Passover.

I always hated cleaning. My mother did not teach me to clean. We children had to do the dishes and set the table, and with that our task was finished. When I came to Israel, as an live-in nanny I was expected to also help with the cleaning, and the father of the children asked me if I knew how to clean the floor. I hesitantly said: I am not sure. He proceeded to fill a bucket with water, threw the whole bucket on the tile floor and used a kind of rubber thing to push the water to all the corners of the room. The hard part was to collect the water again, filth and all. But I learned. I still don’t like to clean, but if I have to do it, the cleaning of the floor with a lot of water is my favorite.

In my years in Israel, in order to earn money, I have had a few cleaning jobs. I did not mind the cleaning so much as long as the company was nice. One job involved getting instructions and some help from a very nice retired man. He fine-tuned the cleaning-of-the-floor-with-water to a science. After our weekly cleaning he always gave me lunch. One other cleaning job I was glad to get rid of, involved being left alone by the lady of the house with a list of things to do. I did not do too well with that.

Most of my first twenty years I lived with secular Jewish people. They did not care too much about Pesach cleaning. One day I found a cleaning job with a nice lady, who worked with me or at least was at home. We got along well, started the job with coffee and talking, and of course the two hour job always expanded in three hours being in the house.  She was secular, but when Pesach came near she started to talk about Pesach cleaning. We cleaned the living room well, I remember, and I said: ‘so from now on till after Pesach you should not eat bread here’. She was happy I understood (of course, you never know when you get a non-Jewish cleaning lady). She kept kosher and cleaned for Pesach, not for herself, but for her religious relatives. They, however, never ate anything at her place, because her ‘level’ of keeping kosher was not up to their standards, she told me.

The jobs did not make me like cleaning. But at least I learned how to clean. Having a husband who, like me, thinks cleaning is a waste of time when there are so much more important things to do, is nice. Although even I don’t like to hear him say, after vacuuming the whole living room and cleaning the bathroom (and believe me, they always need it and more!): “did you really need to clean again?”

Now I am cleaning for Pesach in my own house. I try to tell myself to clean ‘just the chametz’, meaning just the places where breadcrumbs could be. But inevitably perfectionism sets in. Bowing down to the floor, or to the wall, or to the window, I see all the dust and dirt that I ignored all year. I won’t say my house will get clean this year. But…it will be a lot cleaner than it was!


2 thoughts on “Just chametz

  1. Reminds me of spring cleaning, when I wash things I would not normally clean during the year. It’s a lot of work for you at Passover. The concern about sourdough and yeast is interesting, but you do not explain the religious reasons for this.

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