Chanie Baron is a bit busy. The mother of nine, including an infant, is cleaning her home for Passover - turning over dresser drawers, emptying coat pockets, washing toys, scrubbing the kitchen and replacing utensils with holiday kitchenware.
She's also making sleeping accommodations for her parents from Pittsburgh, an older sister and brother-in-law and their eight children from Brooklyn, N.Y., and about 20 Seder guests. Bubbie, Baron's grandmother Sorah Wolosow from New York, might also visit.
And Baron, educational director of Gan Israel day school in Columbia, will cook all the meals from scratch for the weeklong holiday - beginning with cleaning a crate of kosher chickens.
But, like many other Jewish women in Howard County immersed in arduous Passover preparations, Baron prefers to focus on the joys of the family holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
"I'm really, really trying not to be stressed," she said. "I believe Pesach [Passover] should be a celebration of freedom rather than a re-enactment of slavery. I'm trying to bring in the joy of Yom Tov [the holiday] so the kids look forward to it and don't dread the cleaning, that it's a fun time, family comes, there's a lot of activity and a lot of joy."
Observance varies and goes beyond eating matzo. Before the holiday begins at sundown Wednesday, some Jews such as Baron rid their home of chametz, or leavened bread, which includes cake and pasta, and then make their ovens and stoves kosher for Passover, cover countertops and use a separate set of Passover dishes, pots and silverware.
Everyone in the Baron home pitches in, including 12-year-old daughter Rikki. "The holiday is hard, but when it starts it all pays off because all the family is around and we can relax," Rikki said. "It's fun working together and getting the whole house done. We're all tired, but we're all working together."
In addition, those of Hasidic descent, such as Baron and her husband, Rabbi Hillel Baron of the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education in Columbia, observe the stringent tradition of not eating gebroks, Yiddish for dipping or mixing matzo or matzo meal with liquid.
The centuries-old custom avoids bringing possible pockets of unbaked flour in the matzo into contact with liquid that may cause the flour to rise. That means no matzo balls or buying processed Passover foods. Instead, said Baron, "the kids go through cases of fruit."
Dr. Connie Rubler, a Lubavitch Center congregant, started holiday preparations last month with her husband, Andy Bates, and their four children. Rubler expects fewer guests than 24 relatives and friends they invited last Passover, including three families that moved in for the week.
"I go crazy this time every year," said Rubler, a Columbia orthodontist. "But you just sort of plug along and don't worry about it. You know you've got to do it, so you get it done."
Although they don't eat gebroks, Bates, a nuclear engineer and gourmet cook, developed a slew of recipes that include 50 for gefilte fish such as sushi and Thai fish balls.
Despite the workload, the family isn't tempted to escape to a hotel that's kosher for Passover. "That would take away from the essence of Pesach," Rubler said.
Arlene Malech will celebrate a second Seder at Beth Shalom Synagogue, but she is expecting about 15 guests to the first Seder at her Columbia home. She has already cleaned and shopped.
But to make the holiday more meaningful for husband, Robert, a lawyer, their two sons and grandchildren, Malech never buys packaged foods. She cooks everything from scratch, including gefilte fish, horseradish, her late grandmother's meat-filled potato knish recipe, brownies and apple cake.
"I won't bring a mix to my house," said Malech, a marketing research director. "If you want kids to see the tradition, they have to have the smells and see the tumult. I don't want them to think being Jewish is opening a box of sponge cake mix."
At their Columbia home, Jan Dodi, a gourmet cook who is coordinating Columbia Jewish Congregation's communal Seder, will prepare the first Seder for a dozen guests, while her partner, Cathy Dodi, cleans house and sets the table.
To increase seating, Cathy Dodi, a Web developer who makes furniture, will build a drop-leaf table to line up against the dining room table that belonged to Jan Dodi's late grandmother. "Passover is a lot of work, but we usually buckle down and do it," Cathy Dodi said. "We enjoy our family and friends, and have a great time."