It always starts around this time. When the mishloach manot from Purim have been eaten, so you are feeling a bit overweight anyway, and the supermarkets have pushed all the cleaning products to the front of the store to remind you of what you should be doing. I find myself waking up at night or pausing whenever I have a spare moment to run through lists in my head – where to start, what to clean, when to clean, what food we need in, what meals I’ll make, when we’ll bring the Pesach things up from the storeroom, where we will put them. And underpinning it all is the dreadful fear that if I don’t get it right, maybe this will be the year we run out of time, or food, or both.
Everyone else in the family loves Pesach. It’s the children’s favourite chag by a long way, not just for the time off school. There’s Seder with the jokes made every year without fail, and the sayings that don’t make sense to anyone outside the family. There are the boxes on boxes of Pesach biscuits just waiting to be eaten. We eat together as a family meals night after night. Days are spent on the beach soaking up the spring sunshine, or out on tiyul. It’s a proper holiday. I think I used to feel the same.
Only now that I’m responsible for making it all happen, I look at things differently. I can’t see a chair without thinking of the crumbs stuck at the back of it that we won’t have bothered to clean out any other time of year, and now need getting rid of. I look at the oven and know that will be a tough and demanding hour armed with chemical spray to scrub off the accumulated grease. And that’s apart from tidying bedrooms and dealing with the piles of clothes and clutter that I know about all year but try to walk past anytime except when we’re in Pesach preparation mode.
My Facebook feed is full of tips and tricks. It seems like everyone else just can’t wait to get started. I have a file I take out from the cupboard. I have built it up over the years, with recipes and shopping lists, extra things we needed, food we bought too much of, how many eggs we really need. But every year of course is slightly different. This time we’re out for seder, but for the rest of Pesach we have a vegan, two pescatarians/ vegetarians, and four meat eaters to feed. Where do I start? And we concluded last year when all but one box was left over on the last day, that this is a family that doesn’t eat matza.
In England of course it was even worse – four days of full yom tov, two sedarim, and often a shabbat on top. Nowhere open to buy kosher food during pesach and possibly very few days to go out on. Here the issues are different. At least the stores are open and ready to supply most of the gaps in planning. But how much meat do we need to buy and freeze in advance, assuming supplies will run out because the slaughterhouses will be closed? And where do we position ourselves on the difficult issue of kitniyot and its derivatives, which play a big part in making Pesach more straightforward or more difficult here in Israel.
As I feel myself start to panic, I try to remember the key motto: Keep it simple. Focus on fruit and vegetables, and regular food dishes that don’t vary during Pesach. Make it a team effort, with each person allocated their job in the jigsaw that is preparations, and delivery of Pesach. Cook in quantities – there are lots of people to feed and it’s easier that way. And remember the takeaway numbers for the days before Pesach when the kitchen is changed over and baking in full swing, but everyone still wants to eat regular food.
I stop and breathe. I take a fresh piece of paper and write on it “Pesach 2022”. I divide it into sections: Cleaning jobs, shopping list, meal planner, advance cooking list. I start to fill it out, based on last year, and the year before that, the time after I stopped making fancy food and resolved to try to have a holiday too. I start to feel calmer. I set a rough timetable between now and April 15. The pictures of all there is to do still come whenever I take a break from regular work. But my lists make me feel that I have it, at least a little more, under control. The cinnamon balls and almond macaroons will happen. We’ll buy the coconut biscuits because they are pretty delicious and cut the workload. And there will be a vegan option at every meal, somehow.
It will be OK I promise myself. Yihye b’seder.