Passover preparation takes time and a lot of cleaning

Thursday, April 17, 2008 | 6:57 p.m. CDT; updated 1:03 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Rachel Rubin, a student intern at the Hillel House, puts away dishes after washing them in preparation for Passover on Wednesday afternoon at the Hillel House in Columbia. In preparation for the holiday, volunteers spent nearly a week cleaning and preparing the kitchen for use.

COLUMBIA — In the kitchen at the MU Hillel building, a dishwasher whirs.

It must be run three times for each load, the traditional amount for preparing for Passover.

Dishes and silverware must be washed three times without soap and placed in wooden cabinets.

Cupboards and drawers must be meticulously washed and wiped down with a clean, new cloth.

Counters must be wiped down and covered with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

In preparation for Passover, a religious holiday that commemorates Jewish slaves escaping from Egypt to freedom, many Jewish homes will be cleaned in varying degrees to eliminate chametz. Chametz is the Hebrew term for any food made with grains such as wheat, spelt, barley, rye or oats that has been mixed with water and allowed to rise.

During the seven-day trek Jewish slaves took to reach freedom, only matzah, or unleavened bread, was eaten.

Refraining from eating chametz and removing it from homes is one way that modern-day Jews remember this journey to freedom.

Some Jews believe that cleaning their house of chametz parallels a spring cleaning of the spirit.

One may become more humble when eating unleavened bread, as leavened bread represent emotions like pride, said Yossi Feintuch, rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom.

In order to accomplish this cleansing of the house and spirit, chametz must first be removed from every possible surface to ensure that a residence is properly kosher for Passover.

“Wherever people eat, they have to remove the chametz: from the couch, television, dinner table,” Feintuch said.

“Anything associated with cooking: the microwave, fridge, food cabinets, must be cleansed from leavened food stuff. Anything stuck in leaves of tables, cushions of couches must cleaned and cleared away.”

The process of ritualistic cleaning — every dish, piece of silverware, cup, appliance and surface that has been in contact with leavened bread must be washed or dipped in boiling water three times — can be time-consuming.

“It’s a pretty tedious process,” said Rachel Rubin, student intern at Hillel and special events chair of the Jewish Student Organization. “It’ll probably take a couple of days.”

Food that is not kosher for Passover may then be stored in a separate room, away from eyesight, Feintuch said.

In the Hillel kitchen, some wood cupboards housing glass cups of varying shapes and sizes have blue painter’s tape crossed along its edges with “Do not use during Passover” written in black felt pen.

A refrigerator has its top two shelves marked off with masking tape, indicating the contents are kosher for Passover.

Next to the refrigerator is a large closet, stocked with kosher food for Passover.

Food not kosher for Passover in Hillel’s kitchen that is opened will be donated to the St. Francis House. Sealed food will be given to the Central Missouri Food Bank. Some food is also “sold” for $1 before Passover, and then bought back for $1 when Passover ends, said Kerry Hollander, executive director of MU’s Hillel.

To conclude the process, a “nullifying statement” is made, according to, a Jewish educational Web site. This statement — “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” — officially marks that a house and a spirit are free of chametz.

This year, spring cleaning must be completed by midday on Friday, or before the Sabbath begins.

The process of spring cleaning for Passover can differ between families.

Members of Orthodox Judaism, who strictly follow traditional Jewish laws, may choose to burn the chametz. As Passover begins at Sundown on Saturday, some families will conduct a candlelit search for chametz. Conservative and Reform Jews may vary in the extent to which they clean their houses. Some families may keep a separate set of dishes for Passover, so ritualistic cleaning of existing dishes is not necessary.

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