Rice and beans for Ashkenazi Jews on Passover?

Seder tables in Conservative Jewish homes may look different this Passover, and it’s not because of a new popular cookbook or changes to the haggadah

It’s because the Conservative movement has officially decided that kitniyot — which include common foods such as rice, corn and beans — are now permitted for Ashkenazi Jews on Passover, overruling about seven centuries of Ashkenazi custom that banned those foods. The Passover prohibition persisted even though all Jewish legal authorities agree that kitniyot are not chametz, which is why so many other Jews, including Reform and Israeli Conservative Jews, as well as Orthodox Sephardic Jews, eat them during the eight days of Passover. 

The technicalities of the new ruling can be a bit confusing, but they’re laid out by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) in a legal document titled “A Teshuvah Permitting Ashkenazim to Eat Kitniyot on Pesach” published in November. It removes all restrictions on kitniyot for Conservative Jews — restrictions that Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews will continue to follow.

The opinion, written by Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner of Baltimore and Rabbi Amy Levin of Bridgeport, Conn., was approved by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly by a vote of 19-1. Its argument centers around three key points: First, that the custom of Ashkenazi Jews to not eat kitniyot on Passover is lacking in strong rational justification. Second, access to inexpensive foods like rice and beans reduces the high cost of observing a kosher Passover for American Jews. And third, for the increasing number of people who maintain vegan or gluten-free diets, rice, beans and other grains are important sources of nutrition.

A similar responsum written in Israel by Rabbi David Golinkin allows Ashkenazim to eat kitniyot on Passover; it was approved in 1989 by Israel’s Conservative movement. The Israeli responsa has now been translated to English and was voted on by the CJLS in December, passing 15-3. The Israeli responsa draws a similar conclusion, albeit through different reasoning.

Prohibitions against kitniyot are not based on Torah law or rabbinic law, but rather on Ashkenazi custom. About 700 years ago, rabbis in France began referring to a custom of some Jewish communities to avoid kitniyot, a label derived from the word katan (little), which includes rice, millet and legumes broadly, and beans, corn, peas, lentils and soybeans, more specifically. Everyone agrees that chametz — leaven derived from wheat, oats, spelt, rye and barley — is strictly prohibited on Passover. The custom to avoid kitniyot derived from two precautions: First, because kitniyot are sometimes grown in close vicinity to the five chametz grains, rabbinic authorities worried that chametz might mix with and accidentally contaminate otherwise kosher-for-Passover food. Rabbinic authorities also were concerned that Jews might confuse chametz with kitniyot, as they share some resemblance. 

Today, according to Orthodox law, the custom to avoid kitniyot on Passover is binding on Jews of Ashkenazi descent, regardless of where they live. But Sephardic Jews, whatever their denominations, do not follow this custom and enjoy the full range of kitniyot products throughout Passover, making Passover’s shopping experience and diet easier and more enjoyable. 

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of philosophy at American Jewish University and chairman of the CJLS, who eats fish but not meat, said that despite the ruling, his wife plans to continue to observe the custom, so there will be no kitniyot in their home during Passover. Dorff stressed that the Conservative movement’s change “should not be the occasion for looking down your nose, either at the people who do eat kitniyot or people who do not.”

One issue the teshuvah touches on, and which Dorff mentioned in the context of eating at other people’s homes on Passover, is that even under halachah, there is no issue with using kosher-for-Passover utensils that have come in contact with kitniyot, which is not true of Passover-kosher utensils that have come in contact with chametz.

“Kitniyot cannot become chametz,” the teshuvah says. 

Additionally, derivatives of kitniyot — such as rice oil — remain fully acceptable for Ashkenazim who continue to hold by the custom.

The teshuvah guides the reader through the historical rabbinic debate on the topic, highlighting those who believed in the custom, those who thought it stringent but nevertheless thought it should remain, and those who thought it was a mistake.

Rabbeinu Peretz, for example, wrote in the 13th century that there’s no doubt kitniyot is not chametz, but added, “Were we to permit kitniyot, [people] might come to substitute and permit [grain-based] porridge.” And while Peretz noted the Talmud allows rice on Passover, “This was specifically in their day, when all were fluent in the laws of prohibition and permission.”

But Jacob Emden, an 18th-century German-Jewish scholar known as Ya’avetz, wrote that his father, Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi, would “rant” against the custom of avoiding kitniyot, largely on the basis that they are “available cheaply and easily,” and that their exclusion forces Ashkenazi Jews to bake and consume more and more matzo, increasing the chance that they’ll inadvertently consume chametz. (In those days many families baked their own matzo, which requires sharp precision.)

Ya’avetz wrote that his father, also known as the Chacham Tzvi, awaited the day when scholars would abolish the custom but did not support doing so “without the agreement of the majority.”

But even with a majority agreement, the teshuvah notes, rabbinic authorities cited the opinion of Maimonides, perhaps the greatest rabbinic scholar in Jewish history, that “only a greater court than the originators” has the authority to reverse not just law, but custom, too.

In justifying its ruling, the Conservative responsa begins by casting doubt on the possibility of mixing chametz with kitniyot “in the present age when we purchase our flours, rice and beans in discrete packages, well-marked as to their content, under governmental supervision.” A footnote, though, does caution against buying in bulk on Passover from any grocers that dispense food from bins, such as in some natural food stores. 

While acknowledging the importance of maintaining customs, the teshuvah’s authors note that while some Jewish communities “insist upon dressing as did the Jews of Poland several centuries ago, in our community that has been allowed to change.”

The ultimate rationale behind the Conservative committee’s ruling comes down to the practicalities of economics and nutrition, and their belief that “resistance to change is the sole reason not to consider a change” in this custom.

With the growth in vegetarianism, the authors argue, beans, for example, “serve in the absence of meat as a significant source of protein.”

“It’s about time!” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple wrote in an email to the Journal when asked about his thoughts on the ruling. He said he understands “the force of custom,” but, as a vegetarian, he has been eating kitniyot over Passover for years.

“It was based on a misunderstanding and lack of information, so to my fellow kitniyot consumers, welcome to a Pesach no less kosher and much more nourishing,” Wolpe said.

“We now have many more people who are vegans, and we also have people who are known to have gluten allergies,” Dorff notes. “For them, what is permissible on Passover is much more restrictive than it is for the rest of us. Especially for vegans, there was really nothing to eat on Passover. There was really very little, if you do not allow kitniyot.”

“The positive mitzvah of joy on the holiday will not be well expressed on the depleted table of those who do not eat fish or meat, or even cheese and eggs,” responsa authors Reisner and Levin write, adding that the halachic aphorism that the Torah wants to protect the Jewish people’s money is relevant in increasing access to relatively inexpensive foods, like beans and rice, and thereby alleviating the financial pressures many Jews feel when shopping for expensive Passover products.

Rabbi Micah Peltz of Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, N.J., the lone holdout on the otherwise unanimous committee, said he doesn’t believe the decision to lift the restriction on kitniyot is justified by the teshuvah’s reasoning. Peltz said law and custom are changeable, but only when done to “address an ethical dissonance between halakha and the prevailing values of our generation,” which he believes is not the case here. He wrote this with four other rabbis in a January op-ed for the South Jersey Jewish Voice.

In an interview with the Journal on April 11, Peltz said he thinks the economic benefits of allowing kitniyot are limited, as they won’t replace the most expensive Passover food items and because many kitniyot products still require a special kosher-for-Passover certification. He said he could also foresee the ruling creating a division among Ashkenazi Jews, even as it may help bridge a divide between Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

“Kitniyot is not law. It is tradition, and I think that’s something that’s very powerful for people, and I think by throwing off the tradition for everyone en masse, by making that statement, I think it does more harm than good,” Peltz said.

The Reform movement has never prohibited kitniyot. Rabbi Leora Kaye, program director for the Union for Reform Judaism, said the reasoning is simple: “Kitniyot is not chametz, and therefore there is no prohibition against eating kitniyot.” Like Dorff, though, she understands that avoiding kitniyot is an “integral piece” of how some Jews observe Passover.

Kosher-for-Passover-certified kitniyot products have become increasingly available in the United States over the past few years, particularly since the Orthodox Union announced in early 2013 that it would certify products with kitniyot that are kosher for Passover. In Los Angeles, some kosher grocers, such as Glatt Mart, Elat Market and Cambridge Farms, sell kitniyot products on Passover, while others, such as Western Kosher, do not.

Dorff said that, based on the preponderance of Passover kitniyot products available in stores in Israel, he expects they will become more and more common in the U.S., as well.

“If Israel is at all a model for us, my guess is that not only this year but in [future] years, there will be more and more of those things,” Dorff said. 

Passing the kosher-for-Passover test

On March 31, a Tuesday, it looked like a hurricane had swept through Shiloh’s Steakhouse, an abnormal scene for the otherwise-pristine, kosher fine-dining establishment on Pico Boulevard. Chairs were pushed to the side and tables were scattered,  as plastic bins filled with silverware, plates and cooking utensils stood isolated and clearly out of place. It was 3 p.m., and the restaurant’s staff was still waiting for the appointed Kehilla Kosher mashgiach to arrive and inspect the restaurant. “I don’t know where he is,” owner Geoffrey Ghanem muttered in a thick French accent, pacing from the front of the house to the back of the kitchen, making sure all necessary preparations were underway.

Luigi Lemorrocco, an Italian-American New Yorker (who’s been around Jews all his life), has been executive chef at Shiloh’s for the past 2 1/2 years, and this is his third official kosher-for-Passover restaurant cleaning. Come Passover season, he’s quickly catching on, learning what to expect with the rules and regulations of the chametz-free holiday.

Shiloh’s is one of the few kosher restaurants that remain open in Los Angeles for the season, although its profit for doing so is marginal. During Passover, the restaurant is fast-paced and high-energy, serving around 500 to 600 people a day. “It’s very expensive,” said the chef, who dodged questions of exact numbers. Why do it then? 

“It’s really not about the money,” he said.

“We do it for the community. Part of it, we want people to come to Shiloh’s,” Lemorrocco continued. Not to mention, Shiloh’s employees get a steady stream of work instead of the other option, being unemployed for two weeks. “The thing is, it’s a blessing to be open. Why is it a blessing to be open?” asked Lemorrocco, in typical talmudic fashion. “HaShem. It’s a blessing to serve people on the holiday,” he said.

Rabbi Daniel Elkouby, kashrut administrator of Kehilla Kosher, said there are three key points to having a kosher-for-Passover kitchen: kosher-for-Passover ingredients, kosher-for-Passover equipment and maintaining the status of a kosher-for-Passover kitchen (under the watch of an appointed mashgiach). Kehilla Kosher is an agency that supervises — and ensures for the observant clients of the restaurant — that all three are strictly upheld.

According to Kehilla standards, the restaurant must be completely sterilized and spotless. There should be no trace of chametz, because even one single outlying crumb will contaminate the cleanliness of the establishment, and therefore, according to Kehilla, make it unkosher. 

So, by the time the inspector arrived, two hours later than expected — and, mind you, the inspector was just the first step of many in the restaurant’s process of kosher certification for Passover — the atmosphere was tense. As he rushed through the back doors of the establishment, his work began immediately. After all, this was just one stop of many (around 60) for the inspector during this Passover season, and there was no time to waste. 

First thing, the inspector drifted to the large pots on the stovetop. Right from the get-go, he found an issue with a large metal cauldron that had a crack in its surface — a hairline crack that, like a fault line, started from the pot’s brim and traveled downward a couple of inches. The crack had to be sterilized. The rest of the pot could be boiled to cleanliness, but the crack — because the waterline leveled just below — could not. “Torch it,” he offered as a solution — a resolution that he turned to often. Is there grime on the stove? “Torch it,” he said. Soot in the oven? “Torch it!”

The inspector marched through the kitchen and restaurant, a trail of employees — including Ghanem and Lemorrocco, following in his wake. No millimeter of surface went unexamined as the Kehilla inspector assessed knobs on stoves, handles on doors and dust in vents. 

“See those vents?” Lemorrocco had pointed out to a reporter a day before the inspector came. “Those are the toughest.” Earlier that week, on Monday and Tuesday nights, a cleaning crew of about 10 people had labored from midnight to 6 a.m. to clean the restaurant, floor to ceiling. Apparently the crew, which the restaurant had used for the past couple of years, lagged during its shifts, because the inspector was finding too many issues.

“We can’t have that technical term called shmutz,” said the lighthearted but stern inspector after asking somebody to hand him a razor. On his knees and with half his body inside the oven, the inspector went to town, scraping its bottom with a razor blade. “This won’t do,” he said in response to the black soot on his blade. (It’s really a miracle that anyone passes these inspections.) “I want it to shine like the Chrysler Building,” he said, after instructing the staff to scrub the ovens more.

Cardboard boxes where fruits and vegetables were stored in the refrigerator also posed an issue. “Somebody’s hand could have touched bread and then the box,” speculated the inspector. By the end of the fridge inspection, boxes filled with grape tomatoes and squash were left sitting on the countertops, waiting to be repackaged. “How about plastic bags?” asked Lemorrocco, who, by year three, has become a Passover professional. The inspector nodded and said, “That works.”

“I have to move on to my next stop,” the inspector said after 45 minutes of ruthless, but necessary, inspection. For the umpteenth time during his visit to Shiloh’s, his phone rang — another message, another call, another kitchen. “Thank you for unlimited texts and calls, Verizon,” he said, giving a shout-out to his cellphone provider before being whisked away into the fading street, the sun slowly dipping, casting shade on Pico-Robertson and all those still-to-be-inspected kitchens. 

Off to the next site he went, promising he’d be back (or perhaps it would be another inspector) to give the green light on the inspection, which Shiloh’s had not yet attained. And so, as promised, at about 6 p.m., he returned with another rabbi (whose job was to officially sterilize the kitchen), and then the official kasher-ization (aka torching) of the kitchen began — and didn’t finish until 1 a.m.

The next morning, Shiloh’s felt different. It looked like it had undergone a chemical peel and a mini-facelift. The white leather booths gleamed. A soft breeze tickled through, and the room seemed lighter and airier. 

So this is what kosher-for-Passover looks like. 

Lemorrocco, exhausted after a series of late nights, of waiting to get Kehilla Kosher’s OK, and finally obtaining it at 1 that morning, promised with adrenalized foresight: “It’s not over. It’s just the beginning.” 

Visitors to Israeli park turned away for carrying chametz

Visitors to a public park in Israel were turned away because they carried food that was not kosher for Passover.

The security guard at the entrance to the park in Afula, in northern Israel, was checking visitor’s bags for weapons and for chametz, according to reports.

Visitors found to have chametz in their bags were not allowed into the park. Several ate their sandwiches outside the park before gaining entry.

“The Afula municipal park is a public facility that serves the residents of the city and its environs, and so the public is asked to refrain from bringing chametz into it during the holiday, as is customary in many other public institutions,” the municipality said in a statement.

Israeli law prohibits the display and sale of chametz during Passover. Chametz also is prohibited in hospitals and other public institutions.

Barak Avivi, a Tel Aviv attorney, told Haaretz that he was considering filing a class-action lawsuit with the municipality on behalf of those who were turned away for having chametz with them.

The chametz within

Rejoice! Spring has arrived, and Pesach is here. The time of our liberation is at hand. The Exodus from our narrow straits is re-enacted once more.

To be sure, Pesach is about history — the story of the children of Israel leaving the oppression of Egypt, freed into the wilderness of Sinai.

But Pesach is far more than a retelling of history. 

Pesach is the holiday that teaches us to rid ourselves of the dross in our lives. It is the holiday of the eradication of chametz — the fermenting element needed for dough to rise. Get rid of the yeast and our daily bread becomes the food of angels, a vehicle for holy ascent.

This chametz exists within each of us. It is the ingredient that causes anger to bubble up, resentment to arise, prejudice to form. Chametz is both the cause and the result of the accumulation of stubbornly held opinions, ancient slights and long-held grudges. 

Chametz wraps around our souls and our hearts like linen around a mummy, preserving for eternity all the anguish within. Chametz wraps and wraps around our souls until the eternal light that shines within us is dimmed, dulled and can no longer be seen. 

We are commanded to find the chametz within us, gather it and burn it. This is the true meaning of a burnt offering; an offering that is a pleasing scent unto God. This is the offering we give those we love when we attempt to purge ourselves from past transgressions: “See how much I love you,” we say. “I’m cleaning house. I’m getting rid of all that displeases you, and I’m doing so for you, as a sign of my love.” 

Notice how we are not asked to gather the very best in us as an offering, but rather the very worst in us. This is key. This is the ikar — the main point.

The second verse in the book of Leviticus says: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a person brings from you a sacrifice to the Lord; from the animal, from the cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice.”

How are we to understand this statement? Is this a simple, straightforward instruction about the species to be sacrificed, or is there something deeper being addressed? Obviously, the Torah means what it says and must be understood that way. But if that was all the Torah was addressing, I believe it would have faded away into the dust of history ages ago.

Chasidic teaching instructs us to look at the wording and see that what we are really being asked to bring near to God is the animal, the beast within us. We are being asked to offer up the material, physical, earthbound element within us, our neshamah behemit — our beastly soul.

All of us, hopefully, have qualities we are pleased with and would love for others to notice. But we also have qualities we work hard to transform, subdue or even eradicate. Most of the time we wish those qualities would simply evaporate and disappear from within us.

The Torah commands us to bring our least desirable qualities as an offering, not because they are beautiful and pleasing, but rather because they represent our deepest, most painful struggle. We are, after all, Yisrael — those who will struggle with God — and it is within that struggle that our redemption is found. It is the very struggle with our inner demons, our worst angels, that ennobles us and raises us up higher than even angels can aspire to ascend. 

It is that coarse, material soul within us, the twin sister of our Godly soul, that bears the sweetest fruits of our labor; that is why we are asked to offer it up as a token of our love.

The chametz we carry within us year-round is the expression of that beastly soul; it is the Pharaoh within us, yearning to mummify all that is sweet, precious and pure within us, and cast us into the darkness of Egypt’s penultimate plague.

So let us clean house, demummify spiritually and physically. Let us burn the chametz of our anger and hurt, our pride and our prejudice. But let us remember this: It is only because of our chametz that we struggle and grow; it is only because of our beastly, material soul that we rise higher and higher as we labor to transform ourselves into better human beings. Clean, gather and burn the chametz, but leave a little trace of it somewhere deep inside so that next Pesach can be as joyous a festival as this one; so that next Pesach can offer us as meaningful a struggle for liberation as our past festivals have offered.

A joyous, happy and clean Pesach to all. 

The story of Passover Coca-Cola

It contains pure cane sugar, is chametz-free, may taste better than the year-round beverage — and is effectively off-limits in the state of California.

While the story of kosher for Passover Coca-Cola may not be as riveting as God unleashing swarms of locust on the Egyptians or splitting the Red Sea, it’s one that, particularly for Jews in California, could rival at least some of the slower portions of the Passover haggadah.

Why on these eight days does the soda taste different than on all other days? Cane sugar.

In its year-round formula, Coca-Cola uses high-fructose corn syrup for sweetness. But for Ashkenazim — Jews of Eastern European descent — corn and corn-based products are forbidden during Passover. To satisfy the sweet tooth of Jews who strictly observe Passover, Coca-Cola substituted cane sugar for corn syrup.

For many, a yellow-capped Coke on Passover — instead of the traditional red — is as strong a tradition as matzah pizza and macaroons. It is perhaps the soda most associated by Jews with the holiday. But one major problem stands in the way of tradition these days — California state law. 

[Related: The Passover Coca-Cola Challenge]

The Passover version of the popular soft drink has been, since 2011, effectively outlawed in the Golden State, but shoppers can still find it in some stores that acquire it from other states. 

The culprit? A chemical whose name sounds like something out of a 1980s science fiction thriller: 4-Methylimidazole, or 4-MEI.

An ingredient in regular Coca-Cola, 4-MEI is a chemical byproduct naturally formed during the heating and browning process in some foods, like caramel. A change in state law required some sort of warning or, for Coke, a change in its normal formula, something that had unintended negative consequences in its ability to create a Passover version.

The problem is that 4-MEI is “known to the state to cause cancer,” according to the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) Web site. If 100,000 people consume at least 29 micrograms of 4-MEI per day for 70 years, one of them will get cancer from the exposure, OEHHA spokesperson Colleen Flannery wrote in an e-mail. That 1 in 100,000 chance exceeds the state’s “safe harbor limit,” making it one of nearly 800 chemicals singled out by the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 — also known as Proposition 65. 

If you’ve ever peered around a gas station while filling up or let your eyes wander while waiting in line at a Starbucks, you may have noticed a sign or label with a “Proposition 65 WARNING.” When a chemical appears on the Prop. 65 list, the law states that businesses that sell products containing more than a certain amount must provide a clear and visible warning to the consumer or risk penalties that reach up to $2,500 per violation per day.

Just this month, a California citizen filed lawsuits against several companies “for failure to warn about exposures to 4-MEI contained in imitation maple flavor and caramel coloring,” according to Lynda Gledhill, press secretary for California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Gledhill wrote in an e-mail that soft drink companies have yet to face any Prop. 65 lawsuits.

How much of a real threat the chemical poses has been disputed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagreed with California’s classification of 4-MEI as a carcinogen. FDA spokesman Douglas Karas wrote in a statement last year that to consume the amount of 4-MEI that was linked to cancer in mice, one would “have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day.”

Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Washington, D.C., Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), however, called the FDA’s statement “malarkey.”

“The more you consume, the greater the risk,” he told the Journal.

CSPI, since its formation in 1971, has advocated for stronger government policies and has pressured the FDA to take stricter positions on caramel coloring. Jacobson was happy to see 4-MEI added to the Prop. 65 list in California because it prompted Coke to use a caramel with lower doses of 4-MEI.

When 4-MEI was added to Prop. 65’s list in January 2011, the company had one year to comply with the law. So, in 2012, it tweaked parts of its closely held formula, modifying its caramel by, in part, reducing the levels of 4-MEI. 

But the change didn’t come without a price. It appears to have made the drink unacceptable for Passover in another way, and more alterations were necessary to make the drink seder-worthy.

Last April, the Pasadena Star-News reported that Coca-Cola spokesman Bob Phillips anticipated Passover Coke being available in 2013. But when the Journal contacted Coca-Cola several weeks ago, spokeswoman Michele McKillip wrote in an e-mail that the company is still testing its new Passover formula for “shelf life.”

“Ingredients may be sourced differently or manufacturing processes may be different for kosher for Passover products,” McKillip wrote. “The new process caramel has not been used before in kosher for Passover products.”

In theory, Coca-Cola could revert to its old Passover formula, but it would then have to make sure that consumers were warned before every purchase, perhaps even with a warning label on every bottle. Coca-Cola, McKillip wrote, hopes to be able to provide a Passover version in 2014.

Singles at Passover saying so long to cell phone, Facebook contacts

While Passover is the time to clean out chametz, single Jews apparently will be cleaning out their social lives.

Jewish singles will use the holiday as an excuse to clean out their cell phone and Facebook contacts, a poll conducted by the Jewish dating site Jewcier found.

In a poll of more than 1,120 Jewish singles, 68 percent of women and 65 percent of men said that cleaning out their cell phone and Facebook contact list was the most important thing to do before Passover.

“When it comes to Passover priorities, Jewish singles have traded the traditional priorities with modern, non-traditional ones,” said Shira Kallus, relationship adviser for Jewcier.

According to the poll, single men prioritize cleaning out their cell phone contacts, while single women prioritize cleaning out their Facebook friends list. Both said that ex-boyfriends and girlfriends should be the first to go.

Looking for chametz in car, coat and computer

Who are the chametz seekers, those dutiful service technicians who in preparation for Passover, and for a fee, help us search and destroy the hidden, unexpected unleaven in our lives?

Yes, for some, it’s not nearly enough to change over the dishes, scrub the kitchen, vacuum the floors and rugs in preparation for eight days without bread, beer and bagels. This observant and vigilant group, in order to begin the holiday with a clean plate, so to speak, must seek out the jammed-between-the-car-seats O’s, the jacket-pocketed pita, even the keyboard crumbs.

Fortunately, for these often-unanticipated tasks, especially for those that are auto-oriented, help is just a fill-up away.

For a city that lives, sleeps and eats in our cars, chametz in the month of Passover becomes an unwanted passenger that may need an expert to help you remove.

“You can’t believe what kids shove between the car seats,” said Eytan Rosenberg, who along with his sister, Ronit Karben, co-owns Josh’s Valero service station in the Hancock Park area.

At his gas station, which has a car wash, Rosenberg offers a $65 “Passover Car Detail,” which, according to the signs displayed on every gas pump, includes “interior detail and carpet vac and shampoo,” plus a carwash.

“It’s chametz removal,” said Rosenberg, a traditional Jew, of the pre-Passover service the station has been offering for four years. “Some people wait for this time of year to clean their cars. We get a lot of families from the area,” he added.

During the pre-Passover season of about two weeks, he estimates the station gets about 10 customers a day. “We take on extra workers so we handle those who come in last-minute,” he said.

“The stuff we find can be like from a petri dish. We found shrunken apples, old diapers, Cheerios, also a lot of pacifiers,” he added.

According to Rosenberg, who inherited the service station business from his father, Josh, who was both an Orthodox rabbi and an auto mechanic, “The Passover service takes three hours per car.”

As Rosenberg demonstrated one of the tools of the Passover car-cleaning trade, a high-power, rotating air gun, he explained that it was good for the job of removing all the chametz, including gum, from the car’s mats and carpets.

But what about bigger carpets with chametz issues? To get those, as well as your clothing, ready for Passover,  one chametz seeker to call is Jacob Jahan, owner of Pico Cleaners.

“Thank God, I have been waiting for Passover;  we could use the business,” said Jahan, whose shop is located in the Pico-Robertson area. “For Passover we get very busy. Some people bring in clothes for the whole eight days,”  added the cleaner, who also provides a no-charge tallit cleaning service for synagogues.

“We use absolutely no starch, and we always search the pockets,” Jahan said, adding that, for customers who ask for it, “We shake the clothes.”

For rugs, Jahan has “a special person who vacuums, beats and shampoos. It takes 10 days to do the job,” he said.

For pre-Passover dry cleaning, Jahan noted, he even takes care with the solvent.

“We have filters to grab the shmutz,” he said.

It’s too bad you can’t take your computer to the cleaners as well. For as those who are truly committed to eradicating all chametz know, you may find it anywhere; not just in your car or parka, but in your Dell as well.

Ever look down between the keys of your keyboard?

On the Chabad Passover Web site, which has an alphabetical checklist of more than 80 potentially overlooked places, from attic to yard, “computer and keyboard” seemingly blink back at you from the list.

“I have heard of people putting their keyboard on the top rack of their dishwasher,” said Eli Jaffe, who runs a business called L.A. Computer Doc, but he said he doesn’t recommend it.

“You can turn your keyboard over and shake the chametz out,” Jaffe suggested. “Or for 15 to 20 bucks, you could go out and buy a new keyboard for Passover.

“Just make sure it says ‘pareve’ on the box,” he said with a smile.

Non-Jewish man returns chametz

A non-Jewish man who took possession of the chametz given to him by a haredi Orthodox community just before the start of Passover returned the goods shortly after the end of the holiday.

The return of the chametz, including expensive liquor, was reported in haredi newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, and picked up by several Israel-themed blogs.

The non-Jewish recipient of the goods, a Muslim resident of the Shuafat neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, reportedly called Rabbi Simcha Rabinowitz of the Ramat Shlomo community shortly after Passover ended to say that he would return the goods. Rabinowitz had encouraged his followers to gift the chametz this year instead of selling it.

The Life in Israel blog suggested that “the rabbi probably told the non-Jew to do this whole thing, just to impress upon the people that their ‘gift’ or ‘sale’ is a real business transaction and change of ownership and not just a fictitious loophole.”

The Chametz search takes a new turn

Professor Plum in the library with a lead pipe? That might be the solution to a game of “Clue,” but in the new board game “Chametz: The Search Is On!” the more likely culprit is Professor Slivovitz,  who is sullying the house with bits of a dreaded cupcake.

Professor Slivovitz (a Passover brandy made from plums) is one of six characters, along with Mrs. Weiss and Col. Moti, who thoughtlessly wander this Passover-cleansed Jewish home with foods such as graham crackers, chocolate chip cookies or hard pretzels. Players ages 7 and older use a process of elimination to figure out who left what food in which room.

Jay Falk of Playa del Rey came up with the game while playing “Clue” with his own children and wondering why there weren’t Jewish-themed games that could engage kids as well as adults. A script coordinator for the CBS comedy “Mad Love” and video producer, Falk dabbles in graphics, so he designed the game and consulted with his local Chabad rabbis to produce the Jewish content. He formed Hazakah Inc., to produce “Chametz,” which was three years in the making.

Falk made sure to make the game Shabbat-friendly — rather than keeping track of the culprits on a notepad, as in “Clue,” players slip markers into slots on cards. The Jewish character and content are slightly unexpected — Rabbi Greenberg (“Clue” has Rev. Green) is clean-shaven, while Professor Slivovitz sports a long, gray beard and, according to the Web site, teaches endocrinology.

Hazakah also produced “Yiddishe Kop,” thinking puzzles with a Jewish bent for ages 10 to adult. “Chametz” is available on Amazon and at most Judaica stores.

For more information, visit

Desperately seeking Chametz

When our ancestors fled slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, they didn’t have an opportunity to plan for the trip: They gathered what they could, grabbed their unleavened bread and high-tailed it out into the desert.

Today, when we prepare for Passover, which commemorates their exodus, we have a little more time. In fact, the preparation for the holiday is nearly as significant as the holiday itself. Clearing one’s home of chametz is an ancient twist on the concept of spring cleaning.

“Chametz is defined as anything containing wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives that have leavened. The moment it rises, it becomes chametz,” says Rabbi Moshe Bryski of Chabad of the Conejo.

We are commanded to “search” for chametz prior to the Passover holiday. You might think that simply emptying your kitchen of leftover pasta and cereal is enough. But you would be wrong.

“The Torah tells us that we are supposed to search throughout our house to clean out all of the chametz,” Bryski says. “It takes more than the day before. It’s definitely best to start two weeks before Passover. … There often are things in our kids’ pockets that we may have forgotten about.”

Getting the kids involved in the search for chametz is a fun way to get them excited about Passover.

“The night before the seder,” Bryski says, “we put 10 pieces of bread throughout the house. Everyone, including the children, searches for the 10 hidden pieces of bread, which we burn the morning before the seder. This is a way we all participate in the search for chametz together.”

So, what if you have a club-store size bag of pasta and you don’t want to throw it away? The sages realized that it could be cost prohibitive for many people to throw away large quantities of food. To help reconcile the need to rid one’s home of chametz while being mindful of not being wasteful, you can sell your chametz to a non-Jew and then buy it back at the end of the holiday.

Here’s how it works: You appoint a rabbi to act as your agent. The rabbi finds a non-Jew who would like to purchase your chametz for a nominal fee. You relocate said chametz to a secure area in your home (a box in the garage, cupboard, etc.). The area should be locked, and the buyer is given the key to the chametz.

“This is a legal, binding contract,” Bryski says. “Theoretically, if the [buyer] who purchases your chametz wants to come into your house and have a bowl of ‘Alpha-Bits,’ he can,” Bryski says.

Of course, there aren’t many, if any, documented cases of a chametz purchaser coming to collect his new purchase.

At the end of Passover, the rabbi will then purchase back the chametz for the owner. This process works, Bryski says, because if you don’t own the chametz, you are not violating the biblical commandment of not having chametz in your home during Passover.

What if you don’t have a rabbi to sell your chametz? No problem. Today, you can simply go online and use an Internet form. Rabbi Yosef Landa of Chabad can act as your agent to sell your chametz (and buy it back). Believe it or not, this transaction is legal and binding. Of course, you still are expected to categorize and lock away your chametz for the duration of the holiday.

Many families vacation during Passover. All-kosher resort programs and cruises are a pleasant way to celebrate the holiday — without all of the fuss.

So, if you leave your house, do you still have to clear it of chametz? The short answer is yes. Some people actually sell their entire house to a non-Jew. Of course, Bryski points out, “It’s not as simple as walking next door and selling your house to your neighbor for a dollar. You should still use a rabbi as your agent to set up the proper legal parameters.”

Even if you are going away during Passover, Bryski urges you at least to do some of the chametz searching. “There should be some element of the preparation for Passover in the house, otherwise the children are missing out on the experience. Teach your children what it means to prepare for Passover.”

Briefs: Carter condemns, Ban meets, students protest

Carter: Israel backers demand ‘subservience’

Mideast peace is possible only with forceful U.S. engagement, former President Jimmy Carter said as he received the Ridenhour Courage Prize for speaking out on controversial topics. Carter — whose recent book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” infuriated much of the Jewish community with its allegedly one-sided presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — addressed some 400 people in Washington on April 4 as he received the award.

Carter lamented what he called a six-year lapse in substantial peace efforts by the United States and said the Bush administration and pro-Israel groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, prevent Americans from having a real debate on Middle East policy.”The American friends of Israel, who demand such subservience, are in many cases sincere and well-intentioned people; I know them,” Carter said. “But on this crucial issue, they are tragically mistaken. Their demands subvert America’s ability to bring to Israel what she most desperately needs and wants — peace and security within recognized borders.”

Rabbi Leonard Beerman, founder of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles and a member of committees such as the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, presented the award to Carter, saying his career had been fashioned “out of a persistent moral sensibility, even about the most sensitive and contentious issues, such as the rights of the Palestinians, for example.”

U.N.’s Ban meets With AJCommittee

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with American Jewish Committee leaders. The April 3 meeting focused on plans for peace in the Middle East, as well as Israel’s treatment at the United Nations.

“We welcomed the opportunity to engage Secretary-General Ban in a discussion of Middle East issues of utmost concern to the international community,” AJCommittee Executive Director David Harris said. “We were impressed by his deep commitment to advancing the search for peace in the region and his keen understanding of the challenges that need to be addressed in order to achieve progress.”

Among topics discussed in the 45-minute meeting were the recent Arab League summit in Riyadh, Ban’s recent visit to Israel and efforts to implement U.N. resolutions in Lebanon, including Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah. The resolutions calls for Hezbollah to be disarmed and for the Lebanese government to assert its control in the south of the country. Ban also acknowledged the U.N. Human Rights Council’s obsessive focus on Israeli actions.

Jerusalem police clash with chametz protesters

Some 100 ultra-Orthodox youths protesting the sale of chametz in Jerusalem restaurants during Passover clashed with police. Following a rally Sunday in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, the protesters sought to march toward Hillel Street, an area with a number of restaurants that sell chametz, or leavened bread products, and nonkosher meat. Police instructed the protesters to disperse.

After some protesters blocked the street, the police tried to disperse the crowd by force, which led a few of the demonstrators to throw rocks at the police.

Some 20 protesters reached Hillel Street; another group trying to reach the Nahalat Shiva promenade were blocked by police forces.

Israeli university students to strike over budget cuts, tuition hikes

Student associations at Israeli universities and colleges have planned a nationwide strike over budget cuts. The students are demanding that about $225 million in cuts to higher education be reversed and that the government not raise tuition. The strike was to begin Tuesday.

The strike will affect 250,000 students. According to the student associations, the planned strike has been coordinated with the lecturer associations and has the support of senior and junior faculty.

The Tel Aviv University Students’ Union announced that it will allow students to enter the campus in order to hand in papers and have access to the libraries. Classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories will all be locked and inaccessible in coordination with the faculty union.

Sen. Clinton seeks Polish restitution law

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) wrote to the Polish prime minister requesting that his country enact a restitution law for property confiscated during the Nazi and communist eras. Also signing the letter to Jaroslaw Kaczynski were Members of the Helsinki Commission.

The signers welcomed statements by Polish officials that they would work to pass legislation by the end of this year, but the commission expressed concerns that the victims have experienced numerous delays in their efforts to gain restitution.

Along with restitution or compensation, the commission’s recommendations include keeping burdens for filing a claim to a minimum, consistent involvement of the central government and the return of artwork to its rightful owners.

“The delay in resolving the property claims of elderly survivors and their family members has gone on for too long,” Clinton said.

The Helsinki Commission is a U.S. government agency that monitors and encourages compliance with the agreements of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as established by the Helsinki Accords. Thirty-five countries signed on to the accords in 1975.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Kids Page

Before Pesach, we get rid of all the chametz in our homes. Chametz is anything that rises, like bread. So the night before Pesach, after the whole house has been cleaned, we hide 10 small pieces of bread around the house and search for them by candlelight. You know, at the seder, we search for something too. This time, it is not bread we look for, but matzah! We search for the afikomen. Whoever finds it wins a prize!
Find the afikomen!

The Yiddle Riddle

Q: What happened to Pharaoh’s blue sandal when he dipped it in the Red Sea?
A: It got wet!

Sent in by
Adam Slomiak, 12,
Thousand Oaks