"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."