Preparing for Passover


Rearrange the furniture! Find the Seder plate! Bake the sponge cake!

Imagine that "pre-Christmas panic" and you can get a sense of what it is like every year for Jewish households in the rush up to Passover, says Janet Kurland, manager of senior resources at Jewish Family Services.

The eight-day Jewish festival, which begins this Wednesday at sundown, is a major holiday that requires major logistics -- particularly when planning the traditional Seder meal for a multitude of loved ones and friends.

"It's work, but it's cherished work," Kurland says.

Homes are scoured, kitchens koshered. Every last crumb of chametz -- leavened bread -- is removed in honor of the Jews who left Egypt with no time to let their bread rise.

Everyday dishes are replaced with Passover dishes. Grocery lists of epic length precede shopping expeditions. Then comes baking, cooking and furniture rearranging to accommodate dozens of guests.

It can be overwhelming, if you don't have a system. "I have a system," says Kurland, who will prepare two Seders, each for 20 to 24 guests, in her Mount Washington home. She starts two weeks before the holiday. "I really start cooking that last week," she says.

Then, the sofa and other furnishings are moved outside and covered with a tarp to make way for rented tables and chairs. The Kurlands rent chairs and tables, which are arranged in an "L" shape. Her husband Shabse, who conducts the Passover service, "sits at the corner of the 'L' so everybody can see and hear him."

Bonnie Pollak's Pikesville kitchen was remodeled with Passover in mind. One cabinet is dedicated to Passover pots and pans. It remains locked the rest of the year. Pollak, regional director for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, also had an extra set of countertops built. At Passover, they are placed on top of her permanent countertops to ensure chametz-free, kosher conditions for preparing the seder meal.

She and her husband, Joey, also expanded the archway between the dining room and living room to accommodate a second table. A piece of plywood placed over both tables and covered with a tablecloth creates the illusion of "one huge table," where the Pollaks' 20 guests will sit on the first two nights of Passover.

Gloria Askin has decided to make the holiday a bit more of a holiday.

"I don't cook, I call the caterer," Askin says. She and her husband, Joseph, are expecting 18 or more guests on the first two nights of Passover. "I've been doing Seders forever. ... I used to be exhausted and didn't enjoy it. I like talking to my guests and participating in the Seders and not worrying about whether the soup's ready."

Harriet Miller is a caterer by trade and accustomed to cooking in large quantities. "But I make the same holiday menu every holiday," she says. "It's ridiculous. I really want to do different things. But my nephew will say, 'You have to have the carrot souffle.' I want to change these things but [my family says], 'Oh no, no, no, no, no!' "

A spring festival, Passover is easily garnished. "It is always jonquil and narcissus time," says Nancy Bloom, who used to preside over large-scale seders with her husband, Richard. She treasures "all those beautiful memories."

And Bloom remembers the hard work to get ready: "I have always said, that if God would agree, I'd be very willing to do Passover for three weeks and have it every three years. But I've never gotten an edict."

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