Do you suffer from seder stress?

Do you suffer from seder stress?

Symptoms include feverish supermarket and kitchen activity

Esther Kook holds a seder plate.
Esther Kook holds a seder plate.

Passover preparations can send relatively sane and well-adjusted people over the edge.

You see it happening, right there in the supermarket aisles. People with glazed eyes, manically grabbing boatloads of matzah off the shelves, filling carts, checking labels — is this really kosher for Passover? And what hashgacha does it have? Who certified it? Oh, no! I can’t see the fine print! I forgot my reading glasses.

Down the aisles we go, tossing matzah meal, farfel, and multitudes of cans, sauces, and condiments into our carts, losing all sense of proportion and reality. Passover is just one week, right?

And then there are the prices, which rise every year. I’ve found the best mantra for all these seemingly endless shopping expeditions is “breathe, shut the brain, throw into the cart, and buy.”

Actually, I feel my blood pressure begin to rise about a week before Purim, when groceries are being shifted around in the stores, making room for all the Passover products. How do you fully focus on the fun of Purim, when you see what’s right around the corner?

Full disclosure — I nearly lost it in Amazing Savings the other day. My cart was full with all sizes of aluminum pans, aluminum foil, paper plates, plastic plates, chocolate Pesach candies (how could I not include those?), games for the little ones, and even cute wine cups — plastic, of course. I was patting myself on the back for getting this expedition done. That was one more to-do item off my list.

That relief was short-lived because when I reached the cashier, she was in a very cranky mood. Seriously, who could blame her? Passover shoppers can be over the top, and we buy a lot. She took each item and rang up the bill, and then asked for my card. I inserted it three times and my chip was rejected. I began to sweat.

“I’ve got checks,” I offered, feeling desperate. “I’ll write a check.” “We don’t take checks,” she said — actually it was more of a growl. Then she called over the manager, who tried my card again — to no avail. All the while, I’m praying, please don’t make me do this all over again.

I tried not looking at the long line of customers standing, staring me down, waiting their turns to have their carts — which also were filled to the brim with all varieties of plastic and aluminum — rung up. Finally, I rummaged through my wallet, and found another card — and it worked!

That same evening, I went to a pre-Passover boutique at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck. I found a beautiful tablecloth for my seder table, and then splurged on some trinkets for myself. Surely, after that almost disastrous afternoon, didn’t I deserve some kind of reward?

And then there’s the cleaning. Some people practically deconstruct their homes and take apart their kitchens and dining areas.

I’m usually pretty calm in that respect. But this year, for reasons that elude me, I found myself armed with toothpicks, digging in the refrigerator, deep in its crevices, purging ground-in chametz gook.

A few toothpicks in, the rational part of me began to emerge.

“This is so unlike me,” I thought. “Why not take a little break?” But I wasn’t done, and soon after I grabbed another few toothpicks. The cleaning actually felt cathartic too. Don’t ask me to explain this weird phenomenon — it’s never happened to me before.

When I think of people and Passover cleaning, Aunt Helen’s face flashes in my brain. Our family always joined Aunt Helen and her family for all major holidays. Even though she chopped, stirred, and churned all the ingredients for her tried-and-true delicious recipes in her very kosher-for-Passover kitchen, Aunt Helen had a more relaxed attitude about removing chametz in other rooms.

After one of our seders, my family moved to the living room, sitting around, trying to recover from our stupor after our four cups of wine. As we relaxed, I noticed a dish with a bunch of candies that looked all too familiar.

“Aunt Helen, those look like the chametz candy you usually keep on the table,” I said. She opened her eyes, took one look, and nonchalantly said — “Oops! Oh, yes, it is. I forgot to put it away. Just don’t eat it.”

So whenever Passover panic sets in, I think very fondly of Aunt Helen and remind myself to step back and bring it down a few notches.

But the question that sets shivers down my spine is “So, when are you flipping your kitchen?” Some people do it a few days or a few weeks before, or do a combination, with some parts of the kitchen being kosher for Passover, and some parts not. This tends to be a confusing route to take but is a way to begin the cooking phase. Bottom line, my kitchen table ends up littered with boxes of cereal, leftover bread, and miscellaneous chametz. I’m actually relieved when b’dikat chametz — searching for chametz — is done and my kitchen is fully flipped.

Finally, after a day preparing the seder plate and food, we sit down at the table that’s set with our new tablecloths, filled seder plates, bowls of salt water, and a myriad of wines. That’s when it hits us. Although we’re exhausted, after all is said and done, we look around and it becomes clear that this is a holiday about our families, dear friends, and all of us as a Jewish nation. We’ve been through so many trials and tribulations, and the past several months have been extremely challenging.

But we’re here with an important story to retell, a story about faith and resilience.

We are also acutely aware of those relatives who are no longer sitting at our tables. They’re no longer singing their special nigunim — the tunes that we love and incorporated into our seders. They’re no longer telling us their favorite Pesach stories or retelling their corny jokes.

We miss them.

But hopefully we have some new additions to our families and our tables. It’s time to make some new memories, sing the old nigunim, and learn some new ones.

Chag sameach!

Esther Kook of Teaneck is a reading specialist and freelance writer.

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