Pesach is such a wonderful festival -- especially when
it is in the distant future and one hasn't begun to
contemplate the actual preparations for it -- or at
midnight on Seder night, when tired housewives and
children grope their way with sleep-locked eyes to
their respective beds.
A great holiday, if one disregards the ten plagues that
precede it and impede the progress of those who would
march steadily to their goal.
The house is a total upside down mess and in vain do
you try to distinguish between your right hand and your
left one. A good thing that your oldest daughter has
taken over the kitchen at this moment and is washing
the lunch dishes. Amazing how routine governs us and
come what may, we must eat an occasional meal.
Suddenly, a terrified cry from the kitchen. You rush to
its source, to find your daughter clutching her hand
with a towel and wailing hysterically.
"Help! I cut myself. I'm bleeding to death..."
You rush to the medicine cabinet and take out some
iodine and a bandage and rush back to your daughter who
is about to faint from the sight of her own blood. It
isn't as bad as she makes it out and soon the flow has
been arrested, leaving you looking at the bloody mess
in the kitchen, at the pile of soapy dishes on the
counter, waiting to be rinsed, and those still in the
sink. You look hopefully at your daughter, but she is
sitting weakly on a chair, recovering from the trauma.
"Well, I guess that's that. Now I won't be able to work
with water until this heals. What can I do?" and she
looks at you apologetically, awaiting your sympathy...
Two pailfuls of water and detergent are standing in the
doorway of the children's room but you're not ready for
the big splash. Your first goal is to prepare those
peckelach to send with the kids. Out. Out. You
give your last minute instructions to the one in charge
and wait for the moment of silence and respite when you
can blithely spill those pails and get into every last
corner of the room with your scrub brush.
With desperate abandon you tip the buckets, and splash!
A few moments of blessed silence as you begin the
tedious, backbreaking work. And then the front door
"Ima! I'm not going to that playground, even if you pay
"Well, how about the other one further down?"
"Ima, tell her. She wants to take us to the park with
"Hey, kids, look! Ima's splashed a flood of water in
our bedroom. What fun!"
And before you know it, eight pairs of shoes have been
removed, eight pairs of socks slipped off, and eight
pairs of feet are hopping, skipping and jumping in the
water. One frog and another frog and another...
Who has time right before Pesach for routine things?
Lunches dwindle to a one course potpourri of leftover
ingredients. Anything in the pantry -- into the pot.
Disposables wherever you can. Dress the kids in the
same clothing for as long as you can before throwing it
into the machine.
Kids can also skip a day between baths. But what about
their heads? The lice are living it up! Who's seen the
lice comb last, anyway? It's not where you left it. Oh,
there it is? Well, who has time for this painstaking,
painful task, anyway? Forget it.
And the lice rejoice with their new lice-nse. The more,
the merrier. And Murphy's Law gets a new corollary: the
less time and energy you have, the more lice you have.
The children's room is finally done. The sign on the
door announces it triumphantly and even those who can't
read have had it hammered into their heads. The
neighbors know it and the kids have reported it in
So everyone knows that chometz is out of bounds.
But what about other things?
"Guess what I found in the empty lot behind the
Epsteins?" announces Yanky, triumphantly, hands behind
"Nu?" you demand.
"It's something I've wanted for the longest time, Ima.
A turtle!" (Or a porcupine, if you like.)
"And where do you think you're taking it?"
"To my room. Why not?"
"But your room is already clean for Pesach, Yanky!"
Desperation in your voice.
"Right. It's not chometzdik, Ima."
And a few moments later, in rushes Shevi, exuberant.
"The Mizrachis said we could have their baby chicks.
They're in a box downstairs. I'm bringing them up,
O.K.? They don't have to eat bread; we can find lots of
other things to feed them, like ants and beetles..."
All year round, we keep the open sugar in a closed
container. But these aren't normal times, and the bag
of sugar nestles in a carton next to the bag of flour
and the bag of table salt near the entrance. No problem
to find the necessary ingredients for a bracing cup of
Until one morning, a long line of ants makes its
appearance, heading straight for the sugar. You try to
head them off and lunge for the bag, hoping to seal it
before... But it's already too late. The bag has
already spilled and the ants have conquered from
within. Another Erev Pesach pest...
"How did this happen?" asks the doctor to the lady
sitting opposite him, her little boy on her lap, his
finger red and swollen.
"Owwww! It hurts! Don't touch!" he wails. The doctor is
not taking any chances -- about touching it, that is,
and scribbles a prescription for a salve.
"Just make sure he keeps it clean. Don't go playing
around in the dirt, right, Mister?" The doctor pinches
Shmueli's cheek instead. Shmueli feels he's been let
off easy. Only ointment...
"But I have to play around in the dirt," explains
the tyke. The doctor raises a questioning eyebrow.
"What do you mean?"
"That's where all the treasures are buried. In the
garbage bin. That's where people throw away the best
things." Old fans. Bikes without wheels, broken radios,
things to take apart...
Shmueli forgets all about the pain and tugs at his
mother's hand. Time to get out of here. Too much
precious time being wasted. There's still so much
garbage to inspect before the truck comes tomorrow to
cart all those treasures away...
The washing machine is working overtime, almost round
the clock. You take out, hang up, put some things in
the drier, even turn on the radiators if it's a cloudy
day, so long as the clothing can dry.
You look at the three machine loads you've pinned so
neatly on the clothesline, stiff and sparkling white,
one after the other without an inch to spare. Now all
you have to do is wait for them to dry so that you can
hang up the next two loads.
Suddenly, you feel a drop or two. Dirty drops with some
gook thrown in, that is, out. It's the neighbor
upstairs, or rather, her Romanian maid. Mrs. Cohen
would never dream of splashing your laundry, but Olga
was not warned to be considerate...
No use screaming at her. She doesn't understand Hebrew.
And suddenly, a piece of bread and jam lands on your
head and the words that do explode from you are drowned
out by a tape turned on to the maximum,
"You've got to help your Ima every day! You've got to
help your Ima in every way..."
You cannot help but compare this rainfall to the plague
of hail, a plague of a different sort...
There are some kids that even in the seventh grade will
write arbe with a hey at the beginning, and
vice versa, harbei with an alef. Variations
of Israeli cockneys? And it seems that this word
becomes entrenched. They want 'arbe 'arbe!
"Ima, I need some new shoes. The ones you bought two
months ago are not good enough for Pesach. Besides,
everyone in the class buys new shoes..."
"Ima, I need a new dress for Pesach. I saw a stunning
one in town for only xxx hundred shekel. That's not so
much, considering that Milka bought a new dress for
over a thousand..."
"Ima, all my socks are torn. I won't have anything for
And the requests come flying like locust, arbe,
arbe, harbe, harbe...
Bedikas chometz night. Finally. You've prepared
the ten pieces of bread and told the kids not to hide
them under the mattresses and not between the folded
clothing in the closet, not inside the window planter
or in keyholes.
They promise to follow the rules. But year in and year
out, you sit for hours in the darkness, like a
minyon for maariv waiting for the tenth one
to show up. Sorele will have already fallen asleep or
forgotten where she put it... Hopefully, it will turn
up -- probably in some very unexpected corner.
Children's creativity knows no bounds.
THE PLAGUE OF THE FIRSTBORN
How many hopes you pinned on her, your eldest. You
thought she'd be your right hand, that she would take
the children to the playground every day, that she'd
outshine you at scrubbing tiles and pots, that she'd
take over the management of the house and delegate jobs
to her minions. So she doesn't do things your way,
prefers to splash lots of water, gets sidetracked,
spends too much time on the phone, tells you to find a
babysitter to take the kids out...
And then, when she does take over, the kids come crying
to you in rapid succession: Chumi is too bossy, too
demanding and unyielding, not sympathetic enough. And
you can't say a word -- this is what you asked for. And
you find yourself taking orders from her as well...
Ten plagues of Erev Pesach, taken with 'arbe
humor, a grain of sugar here and there, shedding light
on the darkness and so on to the finish line.