‘Pesach is a festival of freedom but this year we will be praying for the hostages’

An Orthodox mother and a rabbi open up about how they feel in the run-up to Seder night


Shalvie Friedman and her son Kovi, 2, in the family's kitchen (Photo: Gary Manhine)

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Pesach, Shalvie Friedman breaks out her spreadsheets. Meticulous and colour-coded, these documents have been honed over time by the Orthodox mother of four to streamline the festival for her family.

“I’m an Excel kind of person,” she says as she details her preparations for yom tov.

This year, however, will not feel quite the same as others.

“It’s a festival of freedom in a time when people are being kept as hostages,” Shalvie says. “We’re celebrating and grappling with that struggle. That’s the complexity of being a Jew though. They celebrated Purim in the ghettos and the camps.”

Speaking at the Beis Yisroel shul where he worships, Rabbi Dovid Lichtig says that those suffering at the hands of Hamas will be at the “front and centre” of everyone’s minds this year.

“Traditionally, the month of Nisan is the month of redemption, and it is symbolic for further redemption. Some people are thinking: ‘Is this the opportune time for the hostages to have redemption?’”

Orthodox Jews, he adds, are feeling the brunt of rising antisemitism, thanks to their visibility.

“That’s the thing about Passover, though. We’ve seen powers rise against us,” Rabbi Lichtig adds.

“The First and Second Temples were destroyed. We faced expulsions. But Jews are still here and thriving. When you see the vibrancy of Jewish life on Golders Green Road, it bears that out.”

That vibrancy poses its own problems. Such are the numbers of people who will approach their own rabbi asking for advice and guidance in the run-up to Pesach, it may prove hard to reach him, he says.

“People will ask their rabbi: ‘Which matzos would you recommend?’, ‘How should I make my kitchen kosher?’, ‘What’s the best way to make my processed food kosher?’ There are many more halachic questions. It’s a very intense couple of weeks.”

Despite the apprehension around Seder night this year from the knowledge that many people are still held captive, ripped apart from their families, the Pesach cleaning preparations can’t be avoided. For Shalvie, who is a rebbetzin and Jewish studies teacher, they are now ramping up in earnest.

In the supermarket last week, she found herself talking to strangers about when they were planning to rid their homes of chametz.

One woman, she says, revealed that her mother-in-law intended to wait until after Shabbat to begin the cleaning process and then stay awake for two nights straight getting her house in order.

“Some people clean every single Lego piece, but I don’t bother washing every toy,” she adds. “In the kitchen, I clean every counter, clean every shelf, and then cover the shelves with parchment paper.

“We don’t kosher the oven, though. We have a small kosher oven we use,” says the Golders Green resident. The work began for Shalvie’s family before Purim, when she first cleaned several of the bedrooms.

But it has been held off on the dining room for now, however, so the kids can eat their Cocoa Puffs in peace.

Shalvie’s car will soon be carefully rid of chametz too, though she has already had it pre-cleaned to make this task easier. By the time Shabbat begins on April 19, the entire house will be kosher for Pesach, with the family forced to eat their challah in the garden. One of the unintended consequences of all this labour, Friedman says, is to bring her community closer together.

“On the street WhatsApp group, people will ask: ‘Does anyone need anything?’

On the rebbetzins’ WhatsApp group, I might ask: ‘Does anyone know where is still stocking romaine lettuce?’”

And as if all the cleaning, planning and cooking wasn’t enough, her daughter is due to host a camp for ten five-year-old children at their house to allow their parents space and time to clean.

As Shalvie discusses her plans, she pulls a heavy cardboard box of Pesach equipment from a cupboard and begins to root through it with her two-year-old son, Kovi.

Poring over haggadot illustrated by her children in previous years, Shalvie’s eyes light up at the memories. It’s this, she says, that makes all the hard work worth it.“I’m quite sad when it goes.

“It’s thrilling every time. I bring out my Pesach things, and I’m hit with the meaning of Pesach that I had as a kid. For eight days, it’s almost like we live beyond time. It’s like we’re on holiday in our own house.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive