When we were kids, we used a secret, impenetrable code when we wanted to swear without swearing. “You’re a (something) word!” we would joyfully screech at whoever had annoyed us, just using the first initial letter of the naughtiest verb, noun or adjective we could think of. But nothing could have prepared me for the power of the “P” word, and how it would impact on me as a Jewish adult.
As soon as Purim ends, people start posting on social media about the “P” word, and this year it not only stands for Pesach, parsley and plava but also panic as we plan our second year of pandemic influenced preparations. Because everything has changed, our perspective is different, and our questions revolve around points which have never been pontificated upon by rabbis, long into the night, until their students pounce in a provocative posse to wake them up.
Par example, during lockdowns one, two and three, it seemed pretty much everyone spent hours using the KonMari method to declutter their properties, protecting purely those items which “spark joy” — anything else you just pass over (sorry).
So now we are all sitting in our spartan palaces with only Zeida’s prayer shawl, a pot plant and a picture presented by one of our preferred children, how do we prepare for Pesach? It seems disrespectful to our ancestors just to wave a duster about a bit and begin a Seder.
And what of our sour dough starters? Since last April, people practising all faiths and none across the entire UK’s population have been passionately tending to their starters to ensure peak performance. Creating a sour dough starter involves a commitment so profound that anyone considering it should go through a prior assessment process to check that they’re positively prepared to take it on. (I feel the same way about the show Married At First Sight Australia, but that’s for another time).
What’s the position of these bubbling jam jars of lively levain over the Passover period? Is there a policy to sell them to a neighbour? Do we need to pre-arrange for the parish priest to come in twice a day and feed them? If you substituted matzah meal, would it perish or pop up and protest like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors?
For most of us, leavened products have become a pacifying presence over the past year, will every Jewish household feel pressurised into frantically googling recipes for pesachdik banana bread?
Those parents who have been home-schooling are now facing the dismantling of their classrooms and privately hoping that nothing affects the return to education on March 8 because no one wants to be producing their own model seder a week before their own actual seder.
Perhaps it’s time to start inventing practical games to make Pesach cleaning more pleasurable for the kids, like “What’s under the sofa pillows?” and “What colour is the kitchen skirting board actually painted?” and “Please bring mummy four cups of wine”. Remember, you are in a position of power and this is all progress for your pupils and pastoral care for yourself.
This time last year, which feels like a lifetime ago and also yesterday and also three week’s time, the UK was in crisis mode over the disappearance of toilet roll from supermarkets. There was a proliferation of pictures of empty shelves up and down the country, with auction sites promoting packs of Cushelle for £100. Should we warn everyone about the prospective silver foil shortage that’s predictably heading our way?
Normally we might also be trying to work out what food we have left in our cupboards, but now we can easily work out 90 per cent of that by poring over our home delivery receipts as a prompt. The other ten per cent is of course food left over from last Pesach including that open packet of potato flour plus a tin of hearts of palm, an ingredient that you have never used before or since.
This is also the time of year when non-Jewish members of popular Facebook groups are presumably puzzled by requests for phone numbers of “the guys who do your oven with blowtorches”. For those who are punctilious about Pesach perfection, productively cleaning your oven isn’t enough, it needs to be painstakingly purged by flames to ensure that not a particle of chametz remains, a provision often proffered by yeshivah students. Will they be permitted on our premises? Or will we be compelled to propel our ovens out on to the front path? If any neighbours probe, just tell them barbecues are so 2020.
Each year we get inspiring pep talks shared publicly across social media platforms, to remind you that cleaning can be pleasant, cathartic, and spiritually uplifting. We’ve been inundated with these personal performative pieces throughout lockdown, but the Pesach versions come with the added air of passive aggressive guilt-tripping that has been passed down from generation to generation since the passage from Egypt. I imagine we’ll also see the usual posts on profiles which vary in pretence between “I’ve done absolutely nothing!” and “I’m almost done with three weeks to go!” in much the same pusillanimous way that we all discussed our revision in the run up to A-levels (remember them?).
Approaching the penultimate week, people also usually love to share the most problematic parts of their cleaning, for example those for whom polishing is a priority, or those who pick up every piece of Lego and rather than checking every plastic block for food remnants, place them in a pillowcase and plunge it in the washing machine. As a mum of two boys who were both Lego fanatics, what perplexes me about that is the idea that anyone can locate every single brick because I’m yet to manage that without leaving one to tread on somewhere, somehow, barefoot in the night.
This year I’m anticipating posts full of shortcuts: “we just threw all of our Lego on the pyre when we burned the chametz”.
What seems astonishing this time around, is that no one has been in our homes for months apart from those who live there. It’s quite something to acknowledge that you are personally responsible for every single crumb.
Not only that but the paucity of distractions probably means that you can account for each one with Sherlock Holmesian precision, what you were eating, where you were sitting and what you were doing at the time — right now, out of the corner of my eye, I can see a morsel that I can forensically confirm is from a palmier, eaten in bed, while perusing Tiger King (pathetic).
There’s always this temptation to twist yourself up like a portion of Bissli, scouring the ceilings, washing the windows and re-enacting enslavement as you produce pound after pound of coconut pyramids.
But I have a proposal: maybe this is the year to give yourself a proper break. The P-word doesn’t have to be a pain, don’t let people persuade you to pitch under pressure and become a prisoner of your own projected paranoia and perceived prohibitions.
Whatever you need, I predict that pushy proprietors will provide plenty for purchase (at a premium price, for profit).
This year promises us a plethora of potential, so ply patience, pursue peace, permit yourself to be perfectly present and don’t be perturbed by the “P” word.
Rachel Creeger is an award winning stand up comedian, writer and co-host of “Jew Talkin’ To Me?” podcast.