Chabad.org has a fabulously detailed series of web pages devoted to how to prepare the house for Passover, including "Operation Zero Chametz." I knew when I was reading it that there was NO WAY I'd be able to do all of that. I know that G has never done most of it, and I don't think his parents do either. I don't think my first husband Dimarc's family did a lot of it, either. From the impression I get, much of it, like covering everything in the house with tinfoil, is only done in Orthodox homes... Reform Jews that I have known really just did a good spring cleaning. Which, really, everybody ought to do this time of year! I never knew anyone who sold their Chametz to a non-jew for the week. Everyone just used up what they had in the house, and tossed the rest on the lawn for the neighborhood birds.
Cleaning I can do. I cleaned room by room, progressively throughout the few days leading up to the Seder. If G and I hadn't already done our yearly spring cleaning, this would have been a PHENOMENAL amount of work. I was lucky this time. I only had to vacuum, dust, sweep, and scrub a few baseboards, and move the bed and couch away from the wall to get behind them. For once, I was immensely grateful to live in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment with hardly any furniture. I did fudge a few things - I couldn't move the piano. But I did stick the long vacuum attachment underneath and behind it as best I could. Yes, the cleaning was a BITCH, but I wanted to experience this. There are reasons for these rituals.
It becomes meditative after awhile. I found my mind wandering into fascinating places, meditating on cleaning House, Spirit, Mind, Body, and Environment. Much the same feelings I get when smudging, or doing a broom ritual to "sweep away" negativity.
I prayed a lot, while I cleaned. I talked to my Grandma, feeling like I was reminiscing with her about the compulsive cleaning she used to do. It was amazing, she was right there, with me. I could feel her presence, as I was kneeling on the ground with the sponge, scrubbing the baseboard behind the bed. I laughed. I was tired, my back and knees and right arm were aching, and when the body is exhausted, the mind and spirit tend to work harder. In retrospect, I realize I was wide open, spiritually. I invited her in, and there she was. The goddess, my grandmother, my alter-ego, my sisters and daughters to be, all doing what women do, clean house.
I thought about the commandment, that this was an actual commandment from G-d. I don't like to be commanded. I am happy to do things to please someone I respect and admire, but I have a strong rebellious streak in me and don't like to be ordered or bossed around. I try not to think of it that way. It's tricky though... every Hebrew prayer seems to start with "Blessed are thou, o Lord our G-d, King of the Universe who (insert thing we are grateful for) and COMMANDS us to (insert action here)." So here I am in the bathroom, swiffering the floor, thinking to myself I wasn't BORN Jewish, I do this because I CHOOSE to, I don't REALLY HAVE TO, you know...
And G-d laughed. From the other room, I hear the unmistakable sound of Marge peeing outside her litter box. I couldn't help it, I laughed my ass off. And G-d laughed with me. I sat on the couch for a few minutes, yelled half-heartedly at my spoiled princess of a bad kitty, and then chose to clean it up. I had been saving the kitchen for last anyway.
I am not good at being bossed around, but I do what needs to be done.
The more I learn about Judaism, the more I realize I still have to learn. The more observant one chooses to be, the more all-encompassing I realize this religious practice can be. I have never had a personal relationship with the most observant of Jews - my most Orthodox friend had the starship Enterprise embroidered on his Yarmulke. And every time I read about what I think must be the most hyper-observant community, I find out there's one even more so out there. In my personal experience, I have been surrounded by the most easy-going Jews. This goes way beyond eating cheeseburgers or never attending shul.
However, this is one of the things that I love about Judaism, and about religion in general. We can customize it. That's a very Unitarian Universalist point of view, I know, but the UU's were the only faith that I ever formally joined, and it's easy to see why. In the best of all possible worlds, our religious practices could be informed by looking deep inside ourselves, learning as much as we can about our faith, about the world we live in, and choosing the rituals and observant practices for our lives based on what we truly believe, and how we express that. Not just doing it because everyone else does it. Not just doing it because the human being who is currently head of my religious organization says I have to. Not just doing it because it's a habit, and I feel like a bad person for not doing it, even though I personally don't feel connected to said action. I do it because I feel something important when I do it, because participating in this act makes me feel closer to the divine. Makes me feel closer to who I am, and who I want to be. Makes me feel clean, integral, honest, and special. Religious practice should be meaningful, in that deep level, for everyone.
I was never able to get the kitchen spotless. I realized yesterday morning, when I was drinking my coffee, thinking about the timing of my recipes, that my cat's litter is made of wheat! That's chametz! And the little princess tracks her litter all over the freakin' house, which is why G and I vacuum almost daily. She's a tiny thing and can get behind the furniture. So for all the work I'd done... I probably still had a crumb of wheat behind the bed, the TV, the computer table...
There's a joke in here about Jews and loopholes... But seriously folks, it's really the thought and the effort that counts in the end. G-d knows we aren't perfect. So, after all the work done to clean the house and get rid of the forbidden starch, there is a prayer, just in case you missed something:
All leaven and anything leavened that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.
What was I going to do, exile the cat for a week? Or run to the store and get a different kind of cat litter just for the week? Oh... I probably could have done that. Oh well... I said the nullification prayer, and dustbustered the kitchen floor. About 5 minutes later, Marge jumped into the litterbox, walked around, jumped out, and seemed to relish spreading her litter all over the place. Little fuck.
So my house ain't nowhere as Kosher as it could have been... but I enjoyed going through this exercise of thoughtful cleaning. It's very deep, and I can see how a family would benefit from doing this together. My mother and grandmother and I would have been laughing like crazy, telling stories, occasionally confessing deep feelings, taking breaks to hold each other and drink tea. Maybe my daughter and I... someday.
And speaking of not Kosher, G-d forgive me, I shopped too late. I live adjacent to a very large community of Orthodox Jews, and a huge community of Hasidim. My local grocery stores (all two of them) were completely cleaned out of Kosher-for-Passover products. Luckily, I did find KfP Matzos and Matzo ball mix, and I happened to already have a box of Sweet Potato Latke mix, which, shock of shocks, turned out to be KfP. Other than that... I had to use either plain Kosher or not-at-all-Kosher foods. Oh well. G wouldn't care. and frankly, after all the work I'd already done, and knowing how much was ahead of me just in the cooking, and I'M NOT REALLY EVEN JEWISH AFTER ALL, I threw my hands in the air.
I started chopping apples at about 2:30. Over the course of the next 4.5 hours, I made:
Matzoh ball soup
roasted mixed vegetables (Weight Watchers recipe!)
Pan-seared chicken in a paprika-garlic sauce ('Nuther Weight watchers recipe!)
Sweet potato latkes
One Roasted egg for the seder plate
G brought home a bottle of Chateau La Commanderie du Bardelet Bordeaux, 2005, and a bar of Ghirardelli 86% Cocoa Dark Chocolate for dessert.
We read through parts of the Haggadah, and dug in. G complimented me so many times on my cooking, I was blushing. The wine was perfect. Since I've been doing such a strict Weight Watchers diet for 3 months now, I found myself eating modest portions of everything, and getting quite full rather quickly. I saved the leftover vegetables and chicken, but we tossed whatever latkes went cold. They don't keep well. We gave some leftover chicken broth to Marge, who lapped it up vigorously.
I've talked to a few friends over the last few months about my recent commitment to my own health, and how diet and exercise have taken center stage for me. Cooking has become my new creative outlet. I officially re-joined Weight Watchers in Mid-January, and have been following the "Simply Filling" technique. It's FUCKING HARD. NO bread, but all the whole wheat pasta and brown rice I need to feel full. Only fat-FREE dairy products - low-fat doesn't cut it! But once I emptied my kitchen of off-plan temptations, I found this rather easy to stick to. Now I'm practically a fanatic. This isn't about deprivation, it's about giving myself really great things. I plan a week's worth of meals at a time, and virtually never deviate from my plan. I've learned how to keep calories and fat below a certain level, and eat more fiber to offset. I've learned to re-tool my grandmother's recipes into leaner versions that fit into my plan, and they taste FANTASTIC. I'm not deprived of ANYTHING. I'm eating more fruits and vegetables than ever, drinking more water, and I'm sweating buckets at the gym five days a week, for over an hour per visit. I'm eight pounds down, but I don't care about that, I'm more excited about the clothes I'm going to be able to wear this summer. Let's face it, this could be my last summer with a pre-baby body - our last summer without kids. I'm pumping it. G is proud of me.
Add to all this, my Prozac, and I really am feeling better than I've felt since I was 19 years old. I am sleeping full eight-hour nights, bright eyed and making coffee at 7am. I feel blessed, I feel strong, and I feel confident. I actually look forward to my days, wondering what they have in store, rather than dreading them. I can't wait to get out of the house. G is proud of me.
I don't shop unless I discuss it with G first, and then only if I feel like there's something specific I need or want, like clothes to workout in, or that special pan I bought to make the Passover chicken. I feel somewhat ascetic. It goes with the whole cleansing thing, the de-cluttering of my life, inside and out. G is proud of me.
G and I hardly eat out at all anymore, because I cook constantly. I do most of the grocery shopping now, and a lot of the cleaning, and I love being in control of that. G says we are saving lots of cash because of my cooking, and that makes all the effort even more worthwhile.
My hair is growing, slowly, gracefully, back to a more feminine length. These days all I can do is keep it off my face with a flexiband. I still love it. I think my little mid-life post-wedding crisis is over.
I freely admit that if I was working, and had to deal with restaurants and office snacks, If I was driving home through Tappan Zee Bridge traffic every evening, I'd never be able to do this, any of it. My unemployment in itself is a gift from G-d. And my husband is proud of me. He tells me so all the time. I can't get enough of that.
I feel clean, inside and out.
All these things were in my mind as I prepared for Passover this year. Cleansing, inside and out, of my home, and my body. In the Moon Circles I used to attend, we talked about honoring the goddess by honoring our bodies and Selves as manifestations of Her. Cleaning the church is showing respect for God by caring for his house. Our little apartment symbolizes our place in the world at large, spiritually, the way we want to be seen, by people and by G-d. So this year my worship has been very deep indeed.
Dinner was healthy and delicious, and I fell asleep on the couch while G cleaned up the dishes. I woke up this morning, and, as my Grandmother did countless times over the years, I made myself a frittata for breakfast with the leftover vegetables. It was the best tasting breakfast I have ever made, absolutely decadent. Egg whites poured over sweet potato, eggplant, onion, zucchini, and tomato, seasoned with rosemary, basil, sea salt and black pepper. Savory and sweet and just amazing.
There are still challenges in our lives. G and I have plenty of work to do, plenty of building, saving, investing, plenty of sweat and travel as we work to create the best life we can for ourselves, for each other, and the children we hope to have. But we are so aware of all we have to be grateful for. As it says in the Haggadah, if G-d had only granted us one blessing, we would have been satisfied. The fact that so many blessings have been bestowed on us... we are happy to clean our temple, toil on hands and knees, turn away from unhealthy and unclean things, and give thanks.