Pesach Prep – Keeping it Simple

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Ellen Geller Kamaras

What does a simple, yet special Pesach mean to you? 

As someone who downsized from a traditional colonial three-bedroom house in Madison, Brooklyn, to a two-bedroom co-op in Brooklyn Heights, simplicity has been my go-to strategy for Pesach, Shabbat, holidays, and in my daily life.

I have learned so much about hosting, hachnassat orchim, and shaatra from the talented and gracious women I interview for the Woman to Woman column.

Shelly Antebi taught me a very special approach to hosting guests.  Take thirty minutes to relax and chill before your guests arrive.  Her mother said that people would feel uncomfortable and would not enjoy the meal if she looked tired and stressed.  How insightful is that?

Let’s take that strategy to the next level – how distraught would your visitors feel if you fell asleep or kept nodding off from exhaustion at a Pesach seder?

Another clever woman, Cindy Antebi, shared that she cooks for Shabbat on Thursday night and buys mazza from the local businesses to make her life easier.  A confident woman may feel that she doesn’t have to prove that she can cook everything, provided she can afford to supplement her menu with purchases.  By buying some of the dishes, she also contributes to the success of her fellow business owners.

And let’s not forget Nicole Shamah, founder of Nicole’s Kitchen.  She created a niche by taking the work out of a home cooked meal and enabling her customers to serve it as their own.

A Lesson Learned

So, why am I emphasizing simplicity?

As a young married woman, I followed my mother’s example in preparing for Pesach.  My mom, a”h, didn’t go to sleep the night before erev Pesach and she couldn’t keep her eyes open during the seder.  My aha moment came when I heard the guidelines presented at various pre-Pesach shiurim.  I realized that I didn’t need to buy the latest Pesach cookbook, prepare gourmet dishes, wash the curtains, or scrub my son’s Lego blocks or my daughter’s make-believe tea set.  I decided to focus on my main goal for Pesach: to fulfill the mitzvot of the hag and to celebrate with my family.  That means enjoying the Haggadah reading and the various commentaries offered by the those around the table, educating the children about Yetziat Mitzrayim, and being grateful for family, friends, and our physical and spiritual freedom.

Let’s work together to turn our houses over as simply as possible, avoid Pesach Overwhelm and enjoy the holiday!

Keep it Simple and Focused

Give up on being perfect.  Set realistic expectations about the hag and please don’t compare yourself to others.  Instead, aim for being the best version of yourself.

Be mindful.  Avoid operating on autopilot.  Don’t get stuck doing exactly what you did the year before.  Perhaps you can keep your menu simpler or have more meals out with family and friends.  Change can be a good thing!  Pesach is a celebration of our liberation from slavery in Egypt.  So, let’s not run ourselves ragged for a holiday that is meant to be joyful and emancipating!

Stay focused on your goal.  Keeping a positive attitude is key.  If you have done this before, you can do it again, and perhaps even better and easier!  Apply those lessons learned and implement changes this year.

Keep your eye on productivity. If thinking about Pesach Prep leads to procrastination, work on your time management and making lists.   Avoid out-of-control lists and focus on the most important and challenging tasks for the day.

Divide and Conquer

Break your preparation into actionable tasks and manageable chunks of time.  Choose a task, e.g.  cleaning the refrigerator.  Set a timer for the estimated period that you think you need and go for it!  SMART goals are those that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely and have a greater probability of getting accomplished.

Perform your tasks in short surges with concentrated focus.  Working in short and concentrated surges (with breaks or resting) increases productivity.

Get enough sleep.  Don’t burn the candles at both ends.  We want to be rested to enjoy the hag with family and friends.

Plan breaks in advance with rewards.   Plan a short walk or a smoothie.  Working towards that reward incentivizes you to get the job done.

Unplug or shut your phone while you are performing a task.   Social media can be an enormous distraction when you want to check off that item as completed.

Pesach Strategies

I surveyed friends, family, and community women and asked them to share their Pesach preparation tips. Here’s what they said:

  1. When do you begin your Pesach preparations?

Many women start their Pesach prep right after Purim, which happens to coincide with when the kosher for Pesach foods start to appear on grocery shelves.

The timeline varies for cleaning versus cooking and baking.   Before Purim, I personally go through my pantry closet and dispose of canned goods and boxed food with sell by or use by dates that have expired.

Some women begin to go room by room as early as February, and they tackle one closet/room per week.  Shelly Antebi takes everything out of the closets and discards anything that wasn’t used in the past year, and completely scrubs down the closet and room and puts everything back in new organized sections.

Stacey Gindi starts her Pesach cleaning right after Purim.  She usually weaves in spring cleaning and organization because she enjoys those tasks and not because she feels pressured to.  Stacey tries to stay organized all year so her Pesach cleaning doesn’t need to be so intense.

  1. How do you prepare?

Stacey prepares a two-week schedule, working backwards from erev Pesach to include all the required cleaning/shopping/cooking/work.  As a working mother, she finds this schedule helps her to juggle all her responsibilities and to stay organized.  She also strives to keep a positive perspective to avoid undue stress.

Before Alyce K. leaves Brooklyn for her Florida six-week winter getaway, she pulls and boxes everything from her pantry cupboards.  Some items will be disposed of and others, such as canned and jarred goods, will be placed in a special section.  The cabinets, drawers, and refrigerator get a first cleaning and then a final cleaning before Pesach.

The timeline for koshering the kitchen ranges from three to seven days before the hag.  The cooking and baking usually follow as soon as the kitchen is kosher for Pesach.

My friend Bonnie turns over her kitchen for Pesach over a week before Pesach and cooks kosher for Pesach meals only for this time period.   She keeps the dining room table available for any hametz her family eats, usually cereal or sandwiches. If weather permits, serves hametz on the porch.

  1. What is your Pesach strategy or approach?

Most women concentrate on simplicity and working smarter not harder.  This means focusing on what really matters.

My finance background influences me to implement process improvement in my Pesach prep and my life coach training encourages me to be mindful.

Declutter your space, declutter your mind!  Pesach is a fabulous time to declutter.  Keep an eye out for clutter during PP!  You will enjoy the extra space that results from doing this task.  It’s my first key step that I launch in February.

Regarding Pesach dishes, gadgets, and cookware, I keep a running log during Pesach of items that I never used during the hag as well as new items that I will need for the following hag.  I write notes on a large index card and transfer it to a separate iPhone note pad called Pesach Next Year.

I recommend looking through your Pesach storage closet or bins and giving away the items you never use or haven’t used in years.  When you put away your Pesach supplies, label your containers clearly so you can easily spot what you need, and don’t pack up things that you will never use.

Many women clean out cupboards and set them aside for Pesach groceries or even set up portable shelves in the den for Pesach pots and pans and non-perishable foods.

  1. Do you buy all the newest Pesach products and cookbooks or stick to the basics?

Most women keep a log of Pesach menu items from year to year, including the ingredients and quantities needed.  They do, however, enjoy trying new recipes either from new cookbooks, finding them online, or from friends.

I like to stick to the basics. It’s only eight days!  Avoid impulse shopping and go to the supermarket with a list in hand.  Save money and eat matzah in its natural form vs. buying pricey imitation hametz items such as rolls.  Isn’t matzah what you think of when someone says Pesach?  The savings can be used for a hol hamoed outing.

I would love to hear how you made your Pesach simple, yet special!

Hag Kasher ve’Sameach!

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career and dating coaching.   Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).