Who Will Help Me???
Getting it all together for Pesach
By Debbie Shapiro
The first posters appear about two weeks before Purim. On every pole and at each bus stop, a different cleaning company proclaims that their experienced crew of professional cleaners will make this erev Pesach truly enjoyable. "We specialize in grit and grime," "Our workers will make your refrigerator sparkle," "Sit back and enjoy your erev Pesach"; the signs beckoned me. How could I possibly refrain?
So while I was still putting away the last of the Purim nosh, I phoned the service specializing in grit and grime (there was plenty of that to deal with!) and ordered two bachurim for the following Sunday. Motzai Shabbos, after cleaning up after Shabbos and getting the kids to sleep, I stayed up until after midnight, getting the living room ready for the cleaning crew that would whiz through it like a tornado, leaving it as sparkling as a Mr. Clean commercial.
The following morning everyone rushed through breakfast so that I could clean the kitchen (I wouldn't want those innocent bachurim to see what my house really looked like) before the cleaning crew was scheduled to arrive at nine. By nine-thirty, I was beginning to get nervous and attempted to call the cleaning company. But lo and behold, there was no answer. Finally, at noon, Yitzchak, the fellow in charge, called back to apologize that he had been too busy washing floors to answer the phone. There had been a mixup, he explained, and the boys will be coming the following day.
Monday morning, again, we rushed through the morning routine to get everything in order before the cleaners arrive. This time, however, at nine o'clock in the morning, the doorbell rang and I rushed to welcome my saviors – excuse me, I mean cleaning crew. Instead, there was just one forlorn bachur standing there. "I'm here to clean," he announced, as if we hadn't figured that out already.
Our cleaner, Moshe, was a gem of a bachur, refined and gentle, and obviously extremely devoted to his studies. He lived in one of the more prosperous suburbs of
New York, and had come to to get in a few years of learning before changing to the collegiate track. But when I asked about his professional cleaning experience, his response floored me. "Last night at around three am," he explained, "Yitzchak showed me how to do sponja and how to hold a shmatta properly. I think - I hope- I got it." But he hadn't. Israel
Moshe was, and I assume still is, a real nice guy. As I scrubbed the floorboards and vacuumed the sofa, he kept me entertained with story after story of his adventures in high school and of the challenges he's facing as one of the few American bachurim in an Israeli yeshivah. Our four hours together whizzed by. Although I was doing most of the work, he was at my side helping me; he turned over the sofa, crawled under the table, moved the cabinets away from the wall so that I could get behind them. And at the end of that day, the living room was clean for Pesach, I was exhausted, and Moshe was $40 richer (the other $20 went directly to Yitzchak, after all, he did teach Moshe how to hold a shmatta).
Oh, and by the way, for the remainder of the year, Moshe was a regular guest at our Shabbos table.
According to a study done by
's Brandman Research Institute, this erev Pesach, Israelis will devote 43 million hours to Pesach cleaning. Women will do 29 million of those hours, while men will do 11 million hours. Persons paid to clean will do the remaining 3 million hours at a cost of Israel 64 million ($15.6 million). NIS
That's a lot of hired help, which means that most people living in
will, at one time or another, pay someone to clean their house for Pesach. For some, it's not even a question, Pesach cleaning is mainly a matter of scheduling what the hired help will do and when. For others, it's an act of desperation, a last-straw-attempt to regain sanity among chaos. Israel
Although in Israel many people try to clean for Pesach without bringing in hired help (which is why the cleaning companies often get frantic calls two days before D-day!) in other countries, even the poorest of the poor hire professionals to do the cleaning. "We don't have any money," said Sara, a young Chassidisheh kollel wife living in Stamford Hill, "but I would never dream of doing the work myself. For five pounds I can get a Polish worker to come in and do everything. She scrubs and cleans, and then I just check to make sure she did it right. It's so much easier that way...”
Raizel of Williamsberg
points out, "Even families who are really struggling to put bread on the table take cleaning help before Pesach. It's impossible otherwise." New York
“The workers realize that we're desperate, and they take advantage of it. There's an area where they congregate each morning, waiting for the balabatim to hire them. They've made their own loosely organized union, and, as a group, keep on raising their demands. On one hand, the community has no choice but to give in; after all, it's erev Pesach and everyone needs help. On the other hand, if we keep on capitulating to their demands, they'll keep on raising them. It's a real problem, but lma'aseh, erev Pesach these women make a small fortune.
“Over the years I've had some pretty interesting stories. Several years ago, for example, when my cleaning woman finished her work, she went into the bathroom to change, but then remained there for close to an hour! Every time I knocked on the bathroom door to check that she was all right, the woman – who was from
and could barely communicate in English – responded 'kutch, kutch.' It was only after she left and I entered the bathroom that I discovered that she had spent the hour taking a bath. And why not? She had just finished scrubbing the bathtub so she knew that it was immaculate! Poland
The Emotions Behind the Help
Although I personally am thrilled at the idea of having someone else do the hard work for me, some women are appalled. "How could I let a non-Jewish person take over the mitzvah for me?" asks Shulamis of Los Angeles. Yet the idea of hiring a frum woman to do it for her was even more shocking. "It's demeaning. I mean, how could I possibly ask a Jewish woman to get down on her hands and knees to clean behind the stove?"
Men, too, have strong own feelings about cleaning help. "I hate 'em," says on man, whose wife brings in hired help each year for the Pesach cleaning. "I can never find anything after they leave. But what can I do? My wife can't manage without them, and I'm not about to scrub the oven."
Rabbonim and marriage counselors are generally very positive toward bringing in someone to help with the heavy work. "The women go overboard," says one shalom bayis counselor. "Instead of focusing solely on getting rid of the chametz, the do a thorough spring cleaning and then are so exhausted that they are nervous and angry. If household help keep everyone calm and the family functioning, then I'm all for it!"
Some women believe that bringing in outside help is a sign that they are not The Most Accomplished Balabusta in the neighborhood. "When I was first married, I tried to be Mrs. Perfect. Me, take help? Never! I prided myself on my shiny cupboards and bragged about how I was managing fine erev Pesach on just three hours of sleep each night. But then I came down with a horrible flu two weeks before Pesach. For eight days I could barely lift my head off the pillow! There was no choice, we took whatever help we could get. The Yom Tov was beautiful, even if everything wasn't exactly as I had planned. After that, my whole attitude changed and although I do a lot of work myself, I don't go overboard and hire someone to help me with the heavy work.
How to Prepare for Cleaning
One evening (no, it was not erev Pesach) I had just put m feet up after getting the older children to bed when the phone rang. It was Emily, my husband's first cousin who was visiting from
. "When can we come to visit?" she asked. America
"Well, when would you be able to make it?" I responded, silently hoping that the answer would be "never."
"Actually, tonight is our only free evening. How about in another twenty minutes?" was her nonchalant reply.
Gulp! Twenty minutes! TWENTY MINUTES! It would take at least two hours to get my apartment up to what I imagined must be her standards (after all, with a live-in maid and two kids in a three story palace, how dirty could her house possibly get?). I gritted my teeth as I smiled sweetly into the phone and calmly replied, "Oh, how wonderful. We can't wait to see you!" Meanwhile, I started removing the dirty supper dishes from the kitchen table.
I gently replaced the receiver before racing down the hall to the older girls' room. "Maidelach," I panted, "this is an emergency with a capital E. Everyone OUT OF BED RIGHT NOW (were those giggles I heard?)! In another twenty minutes this house has to look immaculate! Perfect!"
I began giving directions as my little elves went to work hiding the fresh-off-the-line not-yet-folded clothes under the bed, kicking the still-dirty-waiting-to-be-thrown-into-the-hamper clothes under the bed, throwing all the tiny pieces of lego, broken crayons, pens and notebooks littering the floor under the bed and throwing all the stuff that was piled high on their desks (including tomorrow's homework, ugh) under the bed. The bedroom looked beautiful. I assumed it would never occur to my guests to look under the beds.
The kids quickly made my house look so spic and span that even my mother in law would be proud (and I had no doubt that Emily would give her a detailed account). I whipped out a bottles of window spray and the girls and I started to spray all the now-clear surfaces to make them shine. The pillows on the sofa were fluffed, the dirty dishes were concealed in the ovens (that's one good reason for having both a milchig and fleishig oven) and the now-clear countertops were duly sprayed and polished until they shone. Even my not-yet-half-empty mug of herbal tea was poured down the drain and the mug carefully stored in the milchig oven, together with all the other dishes.
My husband's cousins arrived fifteen minutes late. By then, everything was calm, and we were puttering around the house pretending to be busy when there was nothing visible for us to do.
The cousins were extremely curious to see how the natives live, especially since these natives lived. Emily asked for a tour of our apartment, and I proudly acquiesced.
We managed to remain calm, cool and collected until we entered the children's bedroom. "Debbie," my husband's cousin gushed. "I can't believe how you manage so beautifully! It's amazing; so many children in such a small space, and yet everything is immaculate; absolutely immaculate. My house never looks this neat."
At that, the four girls started to giggle. I motioned at them to stop, but that just made them giggle louder. Then my husband started chuckling. Within minutes we were all laughing so hard we could barely stand up. Everyone, that is, except our cousins. They stared at us in shock. Had the natives gone mad?
"What's going on?" Emily asked, once we had calmed down a bit.
"Oh, it's just a private joke," I smiled. "And you're right, it really is amazing. I'm also amazed sometimes!" Emily looked a bit confused, but she was polite enough to smile and accept my flimsy excuse.
The following morning I was even more amazed. I never realized that we could make such a mess by being so immaculate! On the outside, everything appeared picture perfect, but underneath the surface nothing was in its proper place.
An immaculate house is not necessarily an organized house, and prior to Pesach our homes often look completely upside down.
Sylvia Cassouto (972-52-306-0571; firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professional organizer. Her advertisement, "Was Pesach Cleaning Too Overwhelming Last Year? Learn skills that will help you get focused and stay organized. Get that cluttered, burdened, Mitzrayim feeling out of your life" piqued my interest. After all, who wants to remain stuck in Mitzrayim, and if I could learn some new skills to prepare for the cleaning, whether I hire a cleaning lady or I get down on my hands and knees to attack the nitty-gritty myself, well, why not?
"I have a master's degree in social work, with a lot of experience in counseling," Sylvia began. "Recently, I started coaching people in creating and maintaining order in their lives. Once I see a person's clutter, it's easy for me to diagnose the source of the problem. Some people simply were never taught how to get organized. So I show them how to create order and then devote a specific amount of time each day to recreating the order. Others are what we call hoarders. Either they have a deep fear of letting go, or they are scared that someday they won't have what they need. These people will go to a sale and buy eight of something they will probably never use, simply because it's a 'groisah metziah!' So, for example, if I find fifteen spatulas in the milchig drawer, I'll ask my client to chose the two that he actually uses, and to give or throw away the rest. I also demonstrate what a drawer or closet shelf should look like – neat and compartmentalized, not stuffed until it's overflowing.
How can we prepare our homes for the actual cleaning? First of all, start early! Don't wait until the morning that the cleaning lady is scheduled to arrive before starting to dejunk. Yes, I realize that this is spring cleaning, but it's impossible to check for chametz if there's clutter everywhere. So get rid off the stuff you never use. Either give it to your local gemach or throw it directly into the trash.
It's also important to give each drawer a name so that it will hold things that are similar. For example, in the family room you might have one drawer that holds writing supplies, while another might contain all the paraphernalia needed for setting up the Shabbos candles.
The Cleaner's Perspective
Yitzchak Dan is a yeshiva bachur who works on the side cleaning houses. Erev Pesach, he is flooded with calls.
Shaah Tovah: How can a person hiring a cleaner optimize the cleaner's time?
Yitzchak: First of all, decide what you want the cleaner to do before he or she arrives. Do whatever preparations are necessary, for example, if you want him to clean the freezer, remove the food and unplug it so that it will be defrosted before he comes. If you want him to clean the living room, get rid of all the junk that's lying around so that he can do the actual cleaning. And last, but not least, make sure to have cleaning supplies on hand – a good all purpose cleaner, something for the floors, oil for the wood, window sprays, clean shmattas and lot of paper towels; I like to work with paper towels, they get things really clean without leaving streaks.
Shaah Tovah: What are your pet peeves?
Yitzchak: I hate it when people give me only the really disgusting things to clean, with no light jobs in between. Although we're cleaners, we also find certain things nauseating!
Pesach is a wonderful holiday. It's a time of renewal, of ridding ourselves of the chametz so that we can truly escape our personal Mitzrayim and bring ourselves a step closer to the Ultimate Redemption.