Kitchens Prepare, Or Don’t, for Passover

A community seder at KleinLife

A traditional Passover cleaning may conjure up images of a candle to search for chametz, a feather to sweep up bread crumbs and a spoon that serves as a small dustpan.

Though a kitchen might be kosher the rest of the year, when Passover comes, all bets are off. Some engage in a cleaning to make their kitchens kosher for Passover, but many others find it too difficult for practical or economic reasons.

“We don’t keep a lot of food in our kitchen because it is like a catering kitchen,” Congregation Rodeph Shalom Rabbi Eli Freedman said. “So there wouldn’t be any chametz. Sometimes we have some frozen challahs that we might have from a previous week. If we had extra challah, we’d get rid of those. But other than that, we don’t do the feather and the candle, that more traditional thing.”  

Rodeph Shalom is one of many synagogues throughout the area that host community seders for Passover and that rely on a catering company to provide the food. Specifically, Rodeph Shalom uses Feast Your Eyes, Inc.

Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun also has a catered seder. The synagogue often cooks using its kitchen throughout the rest of the year, but with the extra work involved during Passover, it goes with a catering company — Barclay Caterers — instead. The caterer also comes in and kashers the kitchen for Passover.

“It’s a lovely, lovely program, and we enjoy dinner together,” Executive Director Valarie Hurwitz said. “What’s nice about having a community seder is for those who cannot, or don’t, have a place to go on the second night, there is a place here at BTBJ.”

Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City has its community seder catered by Little Pete’s Restaurant and Klein’s Supermarket. The seder is really only kosher for Passover-style, said Bobbi Cohen, chair of the seder committee. The committee made this decision because of the price of catering that was kosher for Passover versus what it would be for kosher-style.

“We contacted several kosher caterers, in addition to Little Pete’s who we’ve used before, and the prices for the kosher catering would have made it prohibitive for our members to attend,” Cohen said. “The price would have tripled.”

For the most part, congregants felt comfortable about this decision, said Cohen, who noted that this often has been the situation at past seders. Anyone who isn’t comfortable with it is welcome to bring their own food.

Congregation Mikveh Israel, an Orthodox synagogue, not surprisingly completely kashers its kitchen for Passover, a process which takes about a day and “follows Jewish law to the letter,” Rabbi Albert Gabbai said.

This includes making sure not only the kitchen but also the tools contain no chametz. The process for cleaning each part of the kitchen varies, based on the idea that the way the material absorbed the chametz is the way it is going to emit it. For example, the oven must be cleaned with a torch or other form of a very high temperature.

“The same process has been done since our grandmothers did Passover and our great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers,” Gabbai said. “The same principles have been applied, even with modern technology. For instance, they didn’t have microwaves, but we still use the same system of cleaning up things according to what the material is.”

As a Sephardic synagogue, Congregation Mikveh Israel serves dishes with kitniyot, like rice and beans, at its seders. But these dishes are kept separate out of respect for Ashkenazi Jews who typically refrain from eating those foods during the holiday.

Unlike Mikveh Israel, local kosher bakeries, such as Homemade Goodies by Roz, Cramer’s Bakery and Lipkin and Sons Bakery, operate more kosher for Passover-style than truly kosher for Passover. Prior to the holiday, they bake kosher products and use kosher for Passover ingredients like matzah meal, matzah cake meal and potato starch, but they do not kasher their kitchens for the holiday.

Homemade Goodies by Roz has a special Passover menu that includes matzah meal cookies, matzah brittle and flourless chocolate cake. But the foods, while kosher, are not kosher for Passover. It’s also not open during the holiday.

“It’s very costly [to kasher the kitchen for Passover],” owner Roz Bratt said. “You just can’t make that money back. It’s usually large, commercial bakeries that have a specific place where it’s strictly for Passover.”

Bratt said that her bakery is quite busy ahead of Passover because many people in the area only keep kosher for Passover-style.

At Lipkin and Sons, General Manager Becky Seiger said they put up a sign letting customers know that though the bakery is kosher, it’s not kosher for Passover. They add Passover favorites to their menu like flourless macaroons and railroad cake, but they don’t bake these in a kosher for Passover kitchen.

“We are very upfront,” Seiger said. “We don’t mislead anyone.”

In addition to synagogues and bakeries, community centers also have kitchens and make decisions about what to do with them in preparation for Passover.

KleinLife, which hosts Passover seders and provides meals for the elderly through its home-delivered meals program and a partnership with Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, completely scrubs its kitchen, Kitchen Coordinator Ben Toledano said. They also use specific utensils exclusively for the holiday, cover the tables and have Betty the Caterer bring in double-wrapped kosher for Passover food.

At home, he personally cleans his kitchen for Passover. He dips silverware into boiling water and takes advantage of his self-cleaning oven.

“[Keeping kosher for Passover has] been passed down from generation to generation,” Toledano said. “It’s how I grew up. It’s important to keep the tradition going, from the previous generation to my generation to the next generation.”; 215-832-0729


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