Cleaning and cleansing

I’m just reading a novel that takes place in Sardinia. It’s my first glimpse of what to me is a completely unknown world. I’m struck by how practices and foods, both intimately tied to the spiritual life of the Sards, are an unquestioned given for the characters in the book. There are many different types of cakes described and they all have specific purposes, meanings and contexts when they can be eaten. This is of course true for any culture. Imagine a ”semla” a Swedish cake eaten during Lent, on a Christmas buffet. Semlor just don’t grow that time of year. It would be unnatural, in the extreme.

This is the spring of our cleaning. On Monday night, Jews around the world will sit down around the Seder table to read, recall and discuss the Exodus from Egypt. That is when the Jewish people went from being one large family to being a people. And that is the journey from slavery to freedom.

Noomi7Some Jews (and some non-Jews who join) will read an abbreviated version, some will concentrate on straight eating and some, like us, will do the maximum version, reading the whole book + discussing how this is relevant to our lives + eating a full traditional meal. If you have ants in your pants, don’t come to our Seder. But before we sit down around the table, we need to prepare ourselves, which in this context means, cleaning.

I like when it’s clean. An old favorite story is from when my oldest daughter called me from a sleep-over party when she was in first grade. ”Mum, can you come take me home, I can’t sleep. The floor here is too dirty”. It made me feel like I have successfully transferred my religious values to my off-spring. But I’m actually not that fanatical. Except before Pesach, the spring Holiday. This is the time to do all the stuff you never get done. Armed with a toothbrush, chemicals and a suspicious mind I let loose the revenge of the rag on our humble abode.

Noomi6A couple of weeks before Pesach I run a bazaar at our synagogue. Other people (see, I’m not the only nut-case) donate stuff they don’t need, clothes, books anything small enough to fit on a table. That is because they too are spring-cleaning. Then we sell all the stuff, and believe me, this year there was an unbelievable amount off stuff, for a set symbolic sum. We make some money that goes to charity and we enable stuff to move from where it’s not wanted or needed to where it is. We are the Robin Hood of the wardrobe. I do most of my annual shopping at the bazaar. It feels great to know that I both saved some of Earth’s precious resources, and I don’t have to go to the mall. I don’t like malls one bit. A choice between going to the mall and drinking a bottle of Ketchup (don’t like that either), I think I would have to go with the Ketchup.

Noomi 1After getting rid of stuff at the Bazaar, it’s time to clean the house. I just washed the covers of the IKEA sofa in the washing-machine although it says dry-cleaning only. I’m a neat-freak anarchist! Purportedly, there is a philosophical/theological reason why we scrub. On the surface we strive to get rid of bread-crumbs and certain kinds of foods we don’t eat during the week of Passover. In a more profound sense, this is a symbol of ridding yourself of bad habits and unnecessary baggage of the soul. What do I carry around in my life that I would be better off without? Our synagogue also collects excess not-for-Passover foods and donates it to a special needs school on the Palestinian side of Jerusalem. Yes, I am proud of that and happy to report that life in Jerusalem is not necessarily as seen on TV.

Not only the house gets cleaned, the car, a major conduit of almost any kind of crumb, gets a washing. My friend Beth, who runs an organization where special-needs kids and no-particular-needs kids get together, organized a car-wash fundraiser. It was hysterical. Apparently, before I came, a member of the Knesset came to have his car washed. He hung his jacket on a tree and helped the kids wash. We are not such a formal bunch. By the time I got there, the kids were tired, happy and giddy. The young man with CP in charge of the industrial strength vacuum-cleaner did a good job. The others, in charge of the outside of the car, less so. The car has a kind-of zebra clean/dirty pattern which goes very well with the tail-like thingy-ma-gig I crocheted for the antenna, to enable me to find my car amongst all other grey all-look-the-same cars.

It’s good, it may not be the best car cleaning ever, but it sure cleaned my soul to have the privilege to share so much joy and enthusiasm.  Now I’ll have a go at the crystal in the lamp before hitting the kitchen. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually really enjoy this. Happy Pesach!

Noomi Stahl