Banishing the leaven



Every year, as soon as Purim ends, Rachel Weintraub starts cleaning for Passover.

The Washington resident usually starts with the basement. She gathers all the chametz, the leavened food and other items that are banned on the holiday. She stores freezer items and dry goods, and brings the toaster oven and microwave downstairs, ensuring the basement can be used as a dining room. She then systematically goes through cleaning the rest of the house.

“My goal is to have everything done by the Thursday night before Pesach starts,” Weintraub says.

With Passover less than two weeks away, many observant families are in the midst of their annual cleaning ritual, making sure all the chametz is gone from their households by the morning of April 14.

Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Beth Joshua Congregation in Rockville says the biggest ordeal for his family is getting all the chametz out of the minivan.

The trick to getting his entire family, including four young children, involved is to turn cleaning into a fun and enjoyable ritual.

“You don’t want them to remember Passover as [just] a time when mom made them clean,” says Topolosky. “Part of the fun is the types of cleaning,” which don’t need to be the same thing year after year. “Cleaning out drawers, closets, organizing their lives in meaningful ways. We all appreciate it. The kids enjoy getting rid of things they don’t need.”

As with many families on the night before Passover, the Topoloskys hide 10 pieces of chametz around the house for the children to find. They break out guitars and drums and play music while they search in the dark. But this tradition of seeking the last bits of leaven is not just about the physical search, the rabbi explains. “It’s not just about physically rooting out the chametz, but also spiritually focusing on who we are and what the holiday is supposed to accomplish.”

The cleaning ritual helps his children organize and prepare themselves for their “national trip of freedom,” he says. Just like preparing for a long trip, preparing for Passover takes a lot of work. And preparing by cleaning benefits their character.
“We want them to take responsibility,” he says. “[It’s about] making sure they’re taking accountability. You want them to feel ownership of their space.”

Weintraub, a mother of three, has a schedule and a list that she relies on every year to make sure everything that needs to be cleaned is cleaned on time. She tries to set aside two or three hours each night. Because she works a full-time job, she likes to clean in small increments.

“The kitchen is the main focus, though we go room by room,” she says. “In the kitchen I empty all the cupboards of food, chametz and non-chametz. We give it to our non-Jewish friends.”

Weintraub says she then wipes down all the cabinets and lines them with paper towels and seals them down until Passover is over. Cleaning the kitchen also involves scrubbing the refrigerator and turning the oven on self-clean.

To ensure the entire house is chametz free, Weintraub, with help from her husband, makes sure to check every nook and cranny. This includes going through all the bedrooms, under the rugs, in every closet and drawer, toy bin, couch cushions, jackets, notebooks, backpacks and workbags. Her husband, she says, is responsible for cleaning the car and helps with a number of aspects including wiping down cabinets she can’t reach. She also makes sure to indicate which cabinets shouldn’t be open during Passover, and her usual goal is to start cooking the Saturday night before the holiday.

“I don’t know that what I do is necessarily different from others. I think the key is to find a way to make it manageable for you,” she says. “And to find a system that makes it less overbearing and chaotic. I think people need to find their own structure in which to do it.”

As overwhelming as the process may seem, she says it’s worth it in the end.

“It’s one of the most amazing moments as you’re about to begin seder and your house is glistening,” she says. “You truly feel ready for Pesach, and you’ve actualized getting rid of chametz from your home. That moment when the glass is shining, the silver is glistening. That makes it worth it.”

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