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The Pesach Challah Roll

Ita Yankovich

We all know the popular Yiddish expression “a mentch tracht un Gutt lacht” (man plans and G-d laughs), but for our family one Pesach it was more like “a mentch tracht un squirrel lacht.

Let me backtrack a little. 

It was 2020, during the height of the pandemic, when yeshivos and shuls were closed, and many people worked remotely. There was no school bus to rush off to, no battling traffic, and I enjoyed the ease of life that came along with working from home.

I have always been geshikt when it comes to Pesach preparation, and like every year, I started cleaning the day after Chanukah. I had a binder in which I compiled spreadsheets of schedules, shopping lists, and recipes in preparation for the holiday. Pre-COVID, I had my limits. I did not scrub down walls, and I did not entertain the idea of soaking my kids’ toys in a bathtub full of soapy water. But this was a COVID year, so I had no excuse to cut corners. I ripped out the glossy pages of Jewish women’s magazines with detailed instructions on how to remove grime from the refrigerator gasket, and yes, even how to bleach and scrub down the walls. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

But like I wrote in the introduction, this was the year when I planned and the squirrel laughed. 

It all started off beautifully. I dusted off my Pesach binder and initiated Phase One of my cleaning routine: the closets. I emptied all the closets and drawers, vacuumed the interiors, and replaced the old shelf liners with new ones. I finally discarded my seven-year-old’s favorite sock, the navy one with the pizza design, whose mate I had not seen in months. I found clothes that I had forgotten about, and 10 dollars and some spare change in one of my coat pockets. 

Now onto Phase Two: lighting fixtures. I always start with the hardest one: my dining room chandelier with its 2,876 crystals. Yep, that’s right, I actually took inventory of every shimmery stone, so I could account for them later. I mixed my concoction of Dawn liquid soap, vinegar, and water and soaked each crystal individually, dried it, and rehung it. When I was done, I leaned back with pride and basked in the glow of my newly glistening chandelier. I was also able to cross off my list polishing the silverware, washing all the curtains, and shampooing the bedroom carpets.  The balabusta in me was beaming with pride. 

But then something started happening. It’s like I took a wrong turn and pride slowly turned into mishap and mayhem. By the time Pesach arrived, I was in full-blown meltdown mode.   

At first, there were small errors on my part. I was determined to clean my computer keyboard by removing all the caked-on gunk and crumbs embedded in the gaps with a toothpick. The W key was especially compacted with goo, and when I tried to wedge the toothpick out of the button, the key came flying out of the keyboard into oblivion. I was stuck with a keyboard that was missing the W key. All that was left was a small white plastic knob. Do you know what it’s like to be a writer with W restrictions? Apparently you can order individual replacement keys off Amazon, but until my package arrived a few days later, I became a “riter.” 

I decided to wash my grandmother’s Hungarian down comforters. My mother aways warned me that these could not be put in the washing machine, but a Google search told me that they could be washed on gentle cycle. Google was wrong, because when I opened the washing machine door, it was like a goose was having a party, and white feathers exploded everywhere! As I gathered the feathers that were embedded in the holes of the washer’s drum basket, and all the feathers that were scattered all over my basement floor, I found the long-lost pizza sock whose mate I had just discarded. 

The next evening, my family retired early for the night and I found myself bored. As I gazed at my wood living room and dining room floors, I had an epiphany that applying the leftover polyurethane from a previous construction job would restore their natural sheen. When I retrieved it from the cabinet, I also found a can of white paint that I thought would be useful for sprucing up the banisters. 

And that exactly what I did. In my pajamas. At nine at night. With the windows closed so the noxious fumes had no room to ventilate. It turned out there was not enough polyurethane for even one thin layer of coating, as I realized when I was halfway through the job. “Don’t panic,” I repeated to myself. “No one will notice that one half of the floor is shiny and the other half is dull.” I repositioned the corner plant pot and armchair to conceal the unfinished parts of the floor. Two hours later, defeated and exhausted, I made my way upstairs to bed, but not before slathering a nice, thick coat of paint on the banister. 

As I lay in bed contentedly replaying the day and all my cleaning accomplishments, I heard the unmistakable sound of my son crying. “Why does the house smell like a gas station?” my son asked. “The smell made me sick!” Mom guilt kicked in as I ran downstairs to get him a glass of water. I held onto the banister for support, remembering too late that it was covered in wet paint. I reached the bottom of the steps and turned towards the kitchen. But I was stuck. I couldn’t move my legs. I stared down in horror, trapped in a fresh coat of polyurethane. 

The next morning, I discovered that no amount of plants or furniture could cover up the tracks I had left on the half-finished floor.  Did I mention that if you look carefully you can see the inscription of a W near the couch where it landed after it was ejected from my keyboard? 

After that, things calmed down a bit. I made it to the finish line of leil Pesach and as I sat there reveling in my elegant tablescape that would make Family First proud, I felt like I was able to finally exhale. 

My husband was in middle of reciting Ha Lachma Anya when we heard pounding at the door.  “It’s Eliyahu Hanavi!” the kids shrieked. “Open the door!” It wasn’t Eliyahu Hanavi, but Jose, a deliveryman from Domino’s with a pizza order. I was having heart palpitations as I quickly ushered him from my foyer in the direction of the correct house across the street.  

I wish I could say this is where the story ends, but let’s return to our furry gray friend. 

The next day, my family and I were sitting out on the front porch enjoying the tranquil spring weather. We were pleasantly surprised to meet the Rav of our shul who was taking a leisurely stroll down our block with his italics? rebbetzin. As we exchanged pleasantries, a challah roll plopped down from one of my hanging porch planters, landing right between us. We stood there in awkward silence for what seemed like an eternity as the culprit, a bushy-tailed squirrel, made a high-pitched chirring sound and began munching on the leavened bread right there, sprinkling crumbs like it was bedikas chometz time. Eventually, it made off with the challah roll securely intact in its mouth. 

That year I learned a very valuable lesson. Although I still polish the contents of my china cabinet right after Chanukah, I’ve done away with the Pesach binder.  Somehow we all manage to get to the Seder table by yud daled Nissan, and this year I intend to do so without paint on my hands or polyurethane on my feet.

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