No Worries

My mom yells at me: “Hurry up, it is almost Pesach and we
haven’t done anything yet.”

The memory goes back several years, when I was a teenager living with my parents
and brother in our three-story building in western Tehran.

I walk toward the stove, where a big pot of water boils. My
mother puts dishes and utensils in my hand, and one by one I dunk them into the
boiling water for a few seconds.

Rinsing and kashering utensils, hag’ala, is a tradition my
mom likes to do every year before Passover, although we are not a particularly
religious family. As a matter of fact, there are many Persian Jewish families
in Tehran who, though not especially religious, keep Orthodox traditions.

“It is much easier than when I was a child,” my mother says,
scolding me for my obvious lack of enthusiasm. “Then, we had to put a big
cauldron in the yard and make a fire by hand. We would heat up small rocks and
throw them into the water to make it boil.”

Hag’ala and the process of scrubbing and cleaning the home
of all chametz is only part hard work we do before a Persian Passover. We also
make cookies and roast nuts at home, since we either have guests or we are
supposed to visit our Jewish friends and relatives at their homes every single
day of the eight-day holiday. Usually we set a specific date so others can come
visit us on that day of Passover. This is not a tradition from Jewish history;
it comes to us from Iranian culture. Iranians pay visits to each other during
the Persian New Year as a sign of respect, a pious deed, and Jews adopted it
for Passover.

“You are so slow,” my mom shouts. “I do not know how you
will be able to do all these at your own home when you get married!”

When I lived in Iran I couldn’t imagine a day not living
there or marrying in another country.

My long trip to the United States brought me into contact
with other Jewish cultures. Learning different Jewish practices was both
interesting and sometimes alien.

My first encounter with non-Persian Jews came during my
six-month stop in Vienna on my way out of Iran. Orthodox Austrian rabbis with
beards, payes and black clothes reminded me of the images I had seen in books
and films about Ashkenazi Jews.

In America, surprisingly enough, I learned that there are
different branches of Judaism, something I never knew existed before. I always
used to proudly tell my Muslim friends in Iran: “Judaism is all the same among
us. Jews’ beliefs are all the same; we are not like Muslims and Christians, who
have many different branches with different controversial ideas.”

I was stunned to learn that rice is considered chametz by
Ashkenazi Jews; Persians cannot live without rice.

Time has flown by, and already three years have passed since
I left my homeland.

So much has happened to me in these years. I am married and
live in my own home.

The interim days of Passover are here, and my mother’s angry
words ring in my mind.

Suddenly, I miss my mother so much. I pick up the phone and
dial the long string of numbers from a prepaid phone card. After a few minutes
I hear my mother’s voice on the other side.

I ask her what she is doing and she says: “I am preparing
for mo’ed. You know it is so hard, cleaning, scrubbing, doing hag’ala, going to
the busy butcher shop, kashering and salting meat and chicken, making cookies,
roasting nuts.”

“Mom,” I tell her. “Here you don’t feel the hard work of
Passover at all. Every thing is ready-made. Even cakes and pastries, which
taste exactly the same as ordinary ones are in markets for Pesach. You can even
buy kosher-for-Passover milk here. Isn’t it funny?”

“Here I don’t have to worry about being slow about getting
prepared for Pesach,” I tell her. “There is nothing much to do here for

At that moment I hesitate, and the words choke in my throat:
“But you know what, Mom? I miss it. This is not the Pesach I am familiar with.
Without all that hard work and with so much abundance, this doesn’t feel like
Pesach at all.”

My final words to her are my saddest.

“And by the way,” I say. “Here there are no daily guests, nobody
visits us here at home.” Â

Mojdeh Sionit is a contributing writer for The Journal.

Go Ahead, Lick Your Lips

When you clean your house for Pesach, don’t forget your
drawer full of makeup. Yes, makeup. Your lipstick, lip gloss, foundation and
eye shadow may contain wheat and oats that some rabbis say you need to stash
away with the rest of your unleavened food products.

But for ladies who hate to go bare, Shaindy Kelman has
fashioned Shaindee Cosmetics, a line of kosher-for-Pesach makeup that can also
be used on Shabbat and holidays, when some don’t apply makeup. Under the
supervision of Rabbi Abraham Blumenkrantz and Rabbi Moshe Heinemann of Star K
Certification, Kelman designed two lines: Long-Lasting Everyday Cosmetics for
those women who would rather apply makeup before the Shabbat and Yom Tov, and
another line of powder-based Shabbat Cosmetics you can apply (according to
specific halachic guidelines enclosed in the packaging) during Shabbat and Yom

It was about eight years ago that Kelman decided that a
naked face on Shabbat and Pesach was simply unacceptable.

“You know, you buy yourself a nice suit and shoes and a nice
hat and a great sheitl [wig] and then you look like you’re dead,” said Kelman,
who has 20 years of experience as a makeup artist and esthetician.

Shaindee Cosmetics distributes in London, Johannesburg,
Israel and select markets in the United States.

Kelman also wanted to help the women in her religious
community in Baltimore who are looking to make a match.

“Let’s face it, shidduchim these days are so hard,” Kelman
said, referring to the process of matchmaking. “It’s important to look nice and
feel good because makeup … is that little confidence that comes in a jar.”

“The time that I invest in teaching them [her clients] is
worth it to me because they are following halacha, they look great and they
feel positive,” the mother of four and owner of a full-service skin care clinic
in Baltimore told The Journal.

For more information, visit or
call (800) 625-3897.

To purchase Shaindee Cosmetics in Los Angeles, visit Miracle
Mile Beauty Supply & Salon, 5001 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 104, (323) 931-2777.

Time to Clean House

"Don’t use my real name," insisted Devorah &’9;&’9;of Pico-Robertson. "I don’t want anyone to think that I am not Pesach cleaning enough."

In fact, for all the women interviewed in this article, having others judge their Pesach cleaning standards would be just another anxiety to add to their very full plate of pre-Pesach concerns — so they all asked to be quoted anonymously about their experiences cleaning for Pesach.

For many, Pesach cleaning is a holy — but stressful — chore, one that has a deeply religious significance with a side benefit of added domicile hygiene. The goal of Pesach cleaning is to rid the house of chametz — any leavened product, because in Exodus 12:19, the Torah commands: "For seven days, leaven may not be found in your home." The law is so strict that the punishment for eating chametz on Pesach is karet — being cut off from the Jewish people. Bearing this in mind, Pesach cleaning becomes more than just your average wipe down.

Many people think about Pesach cleaning at least a month in advance. "Purim is the turning point" said Rochel, 33, who lives in Santa Monica. "On Purim, you get all this chametz with shalach manot [Purim packages], and you immediately have to start getting rid of it." Rochel estimates that she puts in five to six hours a week from Purim to Pesach cleaning her one-bedroom apartment. "If I had kids, I would probably need to put in more time," she said. "But there are certain things I stopped doing to make it easier to clean. I don’t eat in my bedroom, and during the year I stopped throwing pasta against the wall to see if it was ready. That way I don’t have to wash my walls come Pesach time."

Devorah says that it takes her about 24 hours in total to get her house ready for Pesach, and she employs a cleaning woman for about eight hours to help her with the task. "She does the books." Devorah says. "She takes every book off the shelf and opens it and shakes it, to make sure that none of my grandchildren have hidden any chametz in them."

Tasks like shaking out all of one’s books in an effort to find half-eaten sandwiches or examining the underside of every LEGO to find long lost Cheerios might seem like unnecessary and arduous time-wasters. Some feel that you can never be too careful.

"When you have small kids, you have to go over the whole house, because you don’t know what you’ll find," said Rabbi Shimon Raichik, 49, the rabbi of Congregation Levi Yitzchok, Chabad of Hancock Park. "One time, the night of Bedikat Chametz [the ceremony of checking for chametz the night before Pesach], I was going through my kid’s toys, and I found a toy truck. I opened up the truck and found a half a bagel. And the truck was something that we had already cleaned!"

However, others complain that Pesach cleaning can be excessive. "I have this linen closet where I store old sheets on the top shelf," said Sarah. "The only time anybody in the house ever touches those shelves is at Pesach time — and the only person who ever touches them is me — when year after year I Pesach clean them. I know there is no chametz there. But I Pesach clean them nevertheless. And please don’t use my real name."

A prominent Orthodox rabbi from the Fairfax area said, "If your freezer never has any open chametz, and everything is always in a bag, then technically you don’t have to clean it. But nobody would ever do such a thing, and when I suggest this to ladies, they look at me like I am crazy, like I am talking about another religion."

Rabbis insist that Pesach cleaning is not spring-cleaning. "Dirt is not chametz," declared Raichik. "This is not a dust cleaning, not a spring-cleaning, but a search for chametz. Therefore, it is not necessary to wash all your windows or clean up to the ceiling, unless you have kids who throw food up there."

Raichik advises his congregants to make a list of everything that has to be cleaned and then to go down the list systematically, checking every drawer, closet and surface in the house. Yet, just looking inside the house is probably not enough. "People don’t realize that the car also needs a detailed cleaning," Raichik said. "Do you know how much food you can find in a car? Everything in a car needs to be searched — under the seats, the glove compartment, all over. To go and check a closet that nobody has been in during the year but to forget about cleaning the car is missing the point."

The point is that when the holiday finally arrives, that house is chametz free. That it is also sparkling clean from all the attention lavished on it during the Pesach cleaning season, makes it all seem worth it. "The truth is, I do it happily," Devorah said. "I don’t dread it. It is a happy time of year, and it is a nice thing to prepare for."