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Uncategorized April 13, 2014

Four More Questions to Ask on Passover

Father, I’d like to ask you the Four Questions.  Why is this night different from all other nights?

The first question is:

Why do we get generations together for the Seder?

Because the whole point of the seder is the Haggadah, which literally means, the telling.  We’re commanded, “And you should tell your children on that night saying, ‘God took us out of the land of Egypt!'” Which essentially means that if you’re wondering when is the right time to sit your kid down and transmit what you know and care about Judaism, this is the night.  So we get generations together so that one generation can transmit to the next what it’s all about.  Being Jewish.  Being a nation.  Being free to be a Godly people.

The second question is:

Why is matzah so hard to digest?

This is a difficult question, my son.  But I’ll do my best.  You know how “wonderbread” was called that because it was so easy to digest?  Matzah is the barest form of bread ever.  It’s supposed to be rough stuff.  It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.  If you don’t like it, that’s a good sign.  Eat it anyway.  For a week.  And see how you do.  That’s a teeny, tiny glimmer into being a slave.  Kvetch if you must, but that’s the point.

The third question is:

Why do Passover and Easter always coincide?

You are a perceptive one, son.  Good job.  Easter was tied to the lunar calendar, not the solar one, and thus didn’t have a set date.  Due to the way it was set up, it invariably coincides with Passover.  More, the Last Supper was likely a Passover Seder – Easter is about Passover in its origin.

The fourth question is:

Why do so many Jews eat kosher food on Passover?

I don’t know the answer to that one, son.  But  I will say this: observing Passover in some way is an almost universal expression of being Jewish.  90% of Jewish couples attend a Seder, and 65% of intermarried couples do.  This and lighting Chanukah candles are the two most widely observed Jewish rituals.  Chanukah’s easy: it competes with Christmas.  But Passover?  Why Passover?  Something tells me that Jews sense that this holiday is about our very identity, our infancy.  About asking the older generation to give us something of meaning to take along.  Even if we don’t identify strongly, we sense that tossing this ritual aside is something of a sacrilege.  And maybe continuing the holiday throughout the week, by altering our eating habits, is a part of that.

Can I ask you a question, now, son?

Sure, dad.

How did I get so lucky to get a son like you, who asks such great questions about Judaism?

I dunno, dad, I guess the same way I got a dad like you, who can answer them.

Happy Passover to all my OOTOB readers!  See everyone after Passover!

Uncategorized March 10, 2014

Book Review: Let My RV Go! How BTs Handle Fitting in… Or Not

One of the cool parts of being a rich and famous blogger personality mostly unknown Orthodox girl who started a blog is that people contact me to promote their stuff on my blog.  Some of it is absolutely not a fit for this blog (can you say Bible Revisionism? are people actually READING the blog before they send me stuff?) but some is just completely fun.  Like when I get sent free books to read and review.  Especially when they’re relevant, fresh, funny…and totally in synch with the blog.

Example: Let My RV Go, a new novel by Nicole Nathan.

The premise of the novel is two BT families, who, while trying to escape the cold Canadian weather as well as the pressures of organized Orthodox society, take two RVs down south to handle Passover their own way.  Alo
ng their journey they examine different attitudes toward fitting in, standing out, dealing with what they actually believe, and rejection of their secular pasts.  Rereading that, it sounds really heavy, but actually,
the light and funny tone makes the messages so much more palatable.

But what really stands out in this cute and interesting book is the honesty.  Most books written for Orthodox audiences, which this is, judging by the publishing house chosen and language and references used, excise all mentions of pop culture and women in bikinis and being okay with not fitting in and wistful reminiscences of previous secular pasts – for good reason.  If religious kids are going to read these things, we want them to encounter good examples and not be given ambivalent messages about religious life.  But here it totally works, and it’s brave.  And I like it.

At one point in the book, Pauline, the narrator, who just can’t seem to “fit in,” and is always trying to contain her curly red hair under some sort of head covering, sits in the laundry room of an RV park with her counterpart and foil, Julie.  She observes:

Looking over at Julie, I wonder if she and I will ever be close friends.  Julie is devoutly mouthing words written by King David some 2,800 years ago and I just can’t take it.  How can she be so devout and focused all the time?  How did she switch over to being religious so easily, so completely, without ever looking back?  She never talks about her past, but I’ve heard stories from Mike.  He once told us she used to be a dancer who leaped and twirled across North America and Europe performing raw emotion… and now, the only form of expression I can see are her lips mouthing the powerful, timeless words of King David. 

I wonder if she misses her dancing days, her travels, her freedom.  All these years, I’ve been afraid to ask because she may realize that I’m sinecure about my own beliefs….

This is a journey Pauline takes during the book, and at the end, says, “I’m pleased with myself for being so upfront about our incongruence.  I’ve always been aware that I don’t fit into the traditional frum box, yet now I’m actually being open about it and I don’t feel embarrassed.”

The Berkowitzes and the Shapiros, the two families on this little RV getaway, represent the two ways BTs handle organized, contemporary frum culture.  Way one: fit in at all costs, wear the garb, do as the frummies do, and you’ll be okay.  Way two: be yourself, be the best Jew you know how to be, fit in enough that you’re kids aren’t dying, but don’t check your personality at the door.  What’s cool about this book is that it doesn’t make the mistake of having these two families be stereotypes.  They are real people.  They and spouses are not always in the same place.  They are miffed by the “religious” folks questioning their kosher status, but the book doesn’t make those religious folks bad guys.  Julie, the “fit in” girl, hasn’t changed her name to Chaya Gitty.  See?

Here’s why the author wrote the book, from her website:

…I am ba’alat teshuva, becoming observant some fifteen years ago. Turning my life inside out and my kitchen upside down was not easy. It was deeply satisfying and meaningful, but it was often hard work. As I entered the religious world, I became aware that Observant Jews are cautious of the secular world, while secular Jews often misunderstand the Orthodox. We all bring our own perceptions and misconceptions. This results in the creation of two thickly lined boxes containing us and them. Becoming religious, I also became aware of the enormous rift between the two worlds. What does a ba’al teshuvah do? Should he simply break out of his box by forgetting his past and then try to mold himself the new box? Or, should he carve his own space outside of the box? …In the novel, I wanted to explore this rift in a way that readers on both sides could see each other in an honest and light-hearted way. And hopefully, they would be able to understand each other better.

My only critique is they have four little kids who seem remarkably easy to handle… it almost made me wanna RV myself one day.

If you are a BT, what has been your struggle with fitting in/maintaining yourself?
And if you’re a prospective one, has the prospect seemed daunting?

Uncategorized November 29, 2013


I know, it’s Thanksgivukkah and menurkey, not Chanu-scrooge.

Whenever I do a google search, it fascinates me to see what pops up as a suggestion from the almighty mind-reading google.  Try it. Stop midway into your search words and see what google thinks you want to know. I typed in “why give gifts on” and the first return was “why give gifts on Christmas.”  (The second was “why give gifts on hanukkah.”)

Let’s begin our little comparative religion lesson. According to my google-based knowledge of Christianity the reason people give gifts on Christmas is because the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus, and bore gifts. Also, to demonstrate the belief that Jesus is a gift from God. Whatever your beliefs may be about Jesus, this correlates.  Bear in mind that, irrespective of a popular song, typically one (1) night of Christmas is celebrated, and hence one (1) gift per giver per recipient.

Unless you count stockings.

According to my knowledge of Judaism, we give gifts on Chanukah because, um, because, um, we don’t. There does exist a legitimate custom to give “gelt” – Yiddish for “cash.” No set amount, no rule to give each night. There are a few reasons offered for this custom, and here is one that I remember learning as a child:

The Hebrew word Chanukah shares the same root as chinuch, “education.” The occupying Greek forces were determined to force Hellenism upon the Jewish population, at the expense of the ideals and commandments of the holy Torah. Unfortunately, they were quite successful in their endeavor. After the Greeks were defeated, it was necessary to re-educate the Jews—to reintroduce a large part of the population to Torah values. Appropriately, during Chanukah it is customary to give gelt to children as a reward for Torah study.(courtesy of

There’s also a popular custom to reward and thank those who teach your children Torah during this time.

So it would seem to me that distribution of “Chanukah gifts” is a tradition that has been borrowed from the Christmas season. The gift-giving has crept into even the most religious circles. But I, Chanu-scrooge, will not buy into it (see what I did there?). Firstly,  I’m a pretty sourcy girl. I like to know where things are written, what they mean in the original, and do things mindfully.  Second, the commercial spirit is bad enough all year without totally capitulating now, of all times, when we are celebrating a holiday that’s all about the triumph of spirituality over materialism.

Thirdly, I’ve noticed that Chanukah is 8 days long? That’s a lot of gifting, even if you just do “small” gifts.

So what to do if you too, don’t believe in all the Chanukah gifting (and if you do, wonderful!  Enjoy.) when lots of your kids’ friends are getting Chanukah gifts, some large and some small; some just the first night and some all eight nights??

Answer #1: stand your ground.

Answer #2: stand your ground.

Answer #3: create a Chanukah ritual that is fun, and still is consistent with your Chanukah instincts.

Here’s what we do.

1. Every night of Chanukah is made special in some way.  Aside from the festive candle-lighting, singing, and dancing.  One night I might make latkes.  Another night I buy donuts.  Another night we might go over to my in-laws for a Chanukah party.  Or we’ll play dreidel.

2. One night, we do the “gelt ladle.”  Apparently, my husband experienced this once as a child.  His teacher at the Hebrew Academy hosted a Chanukah party at his home, and there was a large bowl full of change.  Each kid was allowed to scoop up a ladle-full of change and keep it.  My husband introduced this fun little gelt-distribution to our kids, which is almost as much fun as having your paycheck direct-deposited into your bank account.  The kids love it!  It’s not so much money, but it’s experientially delicious.

3. We are very blessed in that my kids have lots of grandparents and even great-grandparents, all of whom send my kids gelt.  Some goes to tzedeka and a small amount to savings, and then each kid gets to spend his gelt.  Some years, my kids have pooled their gelt (after thank-you notes are duly dispatched, of course) to buy some communal goodie like a basketball hoop or a Wii.  Other years, they go solo.

4. We’ve created our own custom and it’s really fun.  Each member of the family, parents included, writes down some kind of reward or privilege that they want on a paper.  For example: miss a half-day of school, dinner with mom, a day with no chores, gift card for $10.  In case you are wondering, mine were a Sunday afternoon all to myself, and an evening where everyone handles their own dinner (vacation-minded much?).

So each member of the family writes down two, each on its own paper.  We fold all the papers and put them in a little bowl, and then we go around and everyone chooses.  It’s hilarious to see each person pick out things that are totally incongruous (my husband picked out “double screen time”).  After everyone chooses, each person can make one trade, so the campaigning and lobbying ensues.  It’s our little way of giving our kids stuff, where most of it is privilege or time with us as opposed to “stuff.”  And the game itself is really fun family time.

These are some ideas we’ve had to make Chanukah feel both fun and authentic for us.

What about you?

Uncategorized September 30, 2013

Real Life

Well, the holidays are all over, and it’s time to get back to real life.

For those of you who celebrate the whole week of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in addition to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur…you know exactly of what I speak.  Especially if your kids have been home for like two weeks straight after just barely starting school.

So, this real life for which we pine.  What is it?

Regular-sized meals (as opposed to feasts).
Crossing off the lists of things to do.

And what we’ve been doing the past few weeks?

Focusing on the meaning of life.
Yeah, food.

Which is real life?
And which is the part to get over with?

Uncategorized March 18, 2013

At Least

Is gratitude cliche?

Yeah, in word.  But not in deed.  So easy to say.  So hard to do.   But truly, Seder night is all about gratitude.

“Thank you, God, for taking us out of Egypt.”

That’s the famous part.  And the prize for the most famous Seder song goes to Dayenu, sung even at the shortest Seders, which is actually one long gratitude-fest.  And phrased just so warmly.  God, even if you would have only brought us to the sea, but not split it for us, it would have been enough… dayenu… to thank you forever and ever…

Imagine your teen comes over to you and says, “Mom, even if you would have only washed my clothes, and not dried them, folded them, or put them away, or ironed them, ever, or cooked dinner, or took me shopping… dayenu… it would have been enough for me to be forever grateful to you… today and every day… for all eternity.”  (Are you still conscious?)

So, yeah.  Easy to say.  Hard to do.

Here’s an idea.  Write a poem for the Seder.  The poem is called “At Least.”  First you write five complaints about your life.

The paint job is already looking old.
My car is making weird noises.
I never have enough time to work out.
I am feeling overwhelmed planning my son’s bar mitzvah.
My things are always missing because people in my family move and misplace them.

Okay, that was the easy part.  Here’s the hard part.  After each sentence, write a companion sentence that remembers the good in that moment.  It will start with the words “at least.”  Like this.

The paint job is already looking old.
At least I was able to paint the house recently.  Many are not able to to do so.
My car is making weird noises.
At least we have two cars that still transport us from place to place, and sometimes it doesn’t make weird noises.
I never have enough time to work out.
At least I have a fulfilling job that I love and people that love and need me, which is why I’m busy.  Many do not.
I am feeling overwhelmed planning my son’s bar mitzvah.
At least I have a healthy, happy son who is growing up in a loving Jewish environment, and I’m blessed with many friends and family who want to celebrate his milestone with us, which is where the overwhelmed feelings come from.  I’d never trade that.
My things are always missing because people in my family move and misplace them.
At least I have a busy, active family.  They are more precious to me than stuff.

Bring this poem to the Seder table, and read it before Dayenu.  It will be your personal gratitude workout.

Because while we know we need to be grateful to God for all the “at leasts,” what we are less cognizant of is that we need to be grateful to Him for the complaints too.  Because they are good for us.  They are there to help us grow.  To teach us gratitude.  To teach us humility.  To teach us to be less judgmental when others complain.

Happy Passover to all my readers.  May the gratitude of the holiday spill over into your lives and, indeed, bring you much joy.  At least, you know it’s in your hands.

Uncategorized March 11, 2013

How to Clean for Pesach (Passover) in One Day

You’ve started cleaning after Chanukah?  Used your snow days to tackle the attic for Pesach?  Almost done?


Here’s how to let Pesach become a fun holiday again, one you don’t dread.  But my method has a few ground rules:

1. If your children (or you) regularly eat chometz in odd places, like bedroom closets, and those places are not cleaned regularly throughout the year, you cannot clean for Pesach in one day.

2. You will need the help of one able-bodied adult.  This may or may not take the form of paid help – more on costs in a moment.  It can be a friend, an older kid (feel free to bribe) or a relative.  You can’t do it totally alone, unless you live in a tiny condo and are the sole occupant.  I have a cleaning woman help me.  What should you delegate to your helper?  Whatever you hate to do.

3. Some people spend money because they don’t want to spend more time, and some people spend more time because they don’t want to spend more money.  Adjust my suggestions based on your budget and personality.

4. If you have young children, they will need to be out of your hair for the day – but remember, it’s ONE day.  By “young” I mean too young to be truly helpful.  Teens should stay and help, unless their job is keeping your younger kids occupied.  And they won’t mind staying since it’s only ONE day.  In fact, they will be bragging to all their friends how little they had to help.  Help for your younger kids can come in the form of paid help, or a friend or relative – or your teen.  Have someone take them out to a museum, out for a pizza lunch, whatever.  Just out.  Of.  Your.  Way.  For the day.

5. For those of you that are concerned/curious about the halachic aspects of my suggestions, these ideas are based on talks I have heard from Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst of Chicago and Rabbi Baruch Hirschfeld of Cleveland.  If you have family customs that are stricter than mine, it might take you longer than one day.

6. These suggestions are based on your typical single family colonial home.  If your home is much smaller or larger than that, adjust your expectations accordingly.

7. I am not addressing WHEN to clean.  This will largely be impacted by where and how you cook.  If you have an alternative place to cook that is kosher for Pesach, you can cook in advance and clean literally 2 days before the Seder.  If you don’t, you will want to do your cleaning day a few days in advance so you can cook in your newly Passovered kitchen.  What and where your family will eat during those few days is not within the scope of this piece (heh heh).  Ok, kidding, you will have to leave one space (garage, basement) not-clean-for-Pesach where chometz is still allowed.  The morning of the Seder, this should take half-hour to clean up, max.

Ready?  Let’s go.

We approach the house as though it’s concentric circles, with the dining room and mainly the kitchen as the epicenter.  We start with the peripherals, since they are the easiest.  In my home, here’s where we eat: the kitchen and the dining room;
occasionally in the family room and living room; chocolates and nuts by
guests in the basement (note: neither of those are true chometz); and
anything else is contraband.  The kids are not allowed to eat upstairs.  Do they sometimes?  Yeah.  We’ll deal.  I don’t allow them to eat all over the house.  Not because I’m Pesach-obssessed all year (I think it’s a big mistake to be) but because it’s gross.

9:00 am: Basement

Since the basement is a place where chometz generally doesn’t happen, I don’t clean it.  Plus, even if chometz did go there, every now and then (not telling how often) the basement gets vacuumed.  So it’s gone.  No need to move furniture on the off-chance.  I go down there, I give a quick look-see, peek under beds and pull out any large anything I can see, and we’re done.  Shalom.

Estimated time: 15 minutes.

9:15 am: Upstairs

Since the upstairs is a place where I don’t allow chometz, any children who have offended during the year are responsible for their own clean-up, after which I inspect.

Estimated time: 15 minutes

At this point you might be wondering about organizing, emptying drawers and shelves, and cleaning.  But maybe you forgot that this is about Pesach.  So that’s why I didn’t mention it, and that’s why I don’t do it.  I organize throughout the year, and sometimes after Pesach.  In my opinion, the WORST time in the world to organize is before Pesach, when it gets attached to so much other stress.  In fact, I think it should be illegal.

9:30 am: Garage

The garage contains a big job, which is my spare fridge and freezer.  I empty everything that’s left in the big freezer, which is not much because I’ve been slowing down on the buying, and consolidate it in my small kitchen freezer.  I leave the freezer open and turn it off to defrost.  Later, my cleaning lady will clean it.  She does a regular cleaning job, same as a good cleaning any day of the year, except we clean the rubber seal very well in its grooves.  The spare fridge I have her clean and wipe down with some spray cleaner of some sort.  Voila.  It’s now kosher for Passover.  No lining of shelves, no nothing.  If I have some food items that are not used up (there’s always jelly and pickles) I designate one drawer, put all the stuff in it, and tape it shut.  It gets sold with the chometz.

The rest of the garage involves just looking around and making sure there’s no chometz.  No organizing.

Estimated time: 45 minutes.

10:15 am: Bathrooms

The only thing I am concerned about in the bathroom is toothpaste that might contain chometz.  I find out which brand is ok to use for the current year, put the other toothpastes aside in a place that I am selling (we’ll come back to this), and make a note to get new ones (and new toothbrushes).

Estimated time for all bathrooms: 15 minutes, max.

10:30 am: Family room

My main job is the family room is usually the couch but this year we have a new couch where the cushions don’t come off.  I LOVE THIS COUCH!  We take the dustbuster and vacuum the crevices where we see stuff.  Here’s what we don’t do: move furniture away from the wall that doesn’t get moved all year.  Wash toys.  Organize board games.  Sort CDs and DVDs.  Move the piano.

Why don’t I wash toys?
1. Because my children don’t eat while they play.
2. Because even if they did, I periodically sort and organize my toy closet and if there were a piece of birthday cake, it’s gone now.

Estimated time: 15 minutes.

10:45 am: Living room

My main job in the living room is the couches.  Since we sometimes move furniture around, I move the furniture, me or my helper(s) vacuum under them, we pull all the cushions off the couch and it gets vacuumed inside.  Ditto for the comfy chairs.  Done.  Don’ts: wash curtains.  Dust lights.  Rearrange the mantle.

Estimated time: 30 minutes.

11:15 am: Dining room

This is a big job so I’ll break it down into pieces.

1. Bookshelf.  We take off the shelves all the “benchers” – little booklets that are literally used during the Shabbos meals and actually could contain challah.  Do we clean them?  Nah.  We put them in a closet that will be sold for Pesach.  We wipe the shelves where they sat.  Time: 10 minutes.

2. Folding chairs.  We have a little nook where we keep folding chairs.  We take out the chairs, and, using a blowdryer, blow around them to blast out crumbs.  We wipe down the inside of the closet.  Time: 15-30 minutes to remove, clean, wipe, and replace.

3. Buffet.  I have two sides of the inside of the buffet: one side I will use for Passover dishes, and one side I will sell.  The side I will sell I don’t touch at all – I just tape it shut with masking tape.  The other side I empty, wipe down, replace.  I also blowdry and wipe the top, then cover it with a clean tablecloth.  Time: 15-30 minutes.

4. Dining room chairs.  I (or my helpers) bowdry the crevices of the chairs, then wipe them down.  Time: 15 minutes.

5. Dining room table.  I open the table without the leaves so any crumbs that may be lurking fall through.  I wipe the leaves and put on a tablecloth.  Time: 10 minutes.

Total dining room estimated time: With lots of wiggle room, 1 1/2 hours.  (Really less because you and your helper are working simultaneously, so let’s settle on one hour.)

12:15 pm: Break for lunch

1:00 pm: Kitchen 

Here, too, I am going to break the job down into parts.

1. Oven.  This job I definitely delegate to my cleaning help.  She cleans it just as she would all year, and then we will run the self-cleaning cycle, but before we do, I clean the cooktop, because I put the grates of the burners into the oven during the cycle, which kashers them.  Time: 1/2 hour cleaning. 
While self-cleaning cycle runs, we move on.

2. Fridge/freezer.  We empty everything out into laundry baskets so my cleaning lady can clean on the inside.  Some stuff I toss, some I put into little containers to put back in the fridge, some I give away.  Don’t move fridge away from wall.  Time: 45 minutes.

3. Tables and chairs.  Ditto for blowdry/wipedown method mentioned above.  I move the kitchen table away and sweep under it.  Wipe down kitchen table and put plastic disposable tablecloth over it, which I tie under it to keep it anchored.  Time: 15 minutes.

4. Small appliances: sandwich maker, toaster.  I put them in the pantry, where I have all the chometz to sell.  I don’t clean them at all.  Actually, I move them to the garage where my kids will eat their meals till seder.  Time: 5 minutes.

5. Cabinets.  I designate a few drawers and cabinets that I will be using the week of Passover, and empty them.  I put the contents into other non-Passover drawers or in the pantry I will be selling.  My cleaning lady/kids clean out the insides of those drawers and cabs that I will use by wiping down with some cleanser.  Voila.  They are now kosher-for-Passover.  I use masking tape to mark the “chometz” domains and move some stuff to the folding table in the garage that we will be using temporarily.  Time: maybe an hour.

6. Cooktop, counters, sinks.  These get cleaned really well, like a really good regular cleaning.  The sinks get taped off for the next 24 hours to prepare for kashering (which my husband does).  The counters will get kashered too the following night.  The cooktop gets covered with foil and then I replace the grates that went through the self-clean cycle.  Time: 30 minutes.

Total kitchen estimated time: 3 hours.

It’s now four pm and your house is clean for Passover.  Mazel tov!  When your kids are all home, they will take their backpacks and empty them outside of any crumbs.  You will then throw them in the laundry and, if you have a mudroom, your kids are each responsible to clean their own cubbies.  Estimated time: depends on how pokey your kids are.

The last item is the car.  This is most definitely a place that I’d rather spend money than time.  I take my car to a local car wash (yeah AlPaul) and for $20 all our chometz misdeeds therein are erased.  But even if you tackle the car yourself, there’s no need to remove seats or anything drastic like that.  You vacuum and remove visible chometz.  Dirt’s cool, so just leave it there.  Estimated time for car: 1 hour, tops.  This is also a great thing to delegate to your kids or cleaning help.

Enjoy your holiday!

Uncategorized April 5, 2012

49 Days of Inspiration

Hey readers,

There’s a pretty cool thing I did last year, and this year I’d like to offer it to the readers of OOTOB.

There’s a period of time on the Jewish calendar called “sefirat ha-omer.”  It’s the counting of the 49 days from Passover (Pesach) till the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai.  There are 7 major character traits that we are meant to focus on at this time, and each of the seven gets paired with another for each of the 49 days to produce a very fine-tuned trait to focus on.

I used a book by Rabbi Yacov Haber to convey the trait of the day with a particular action point that I sent out on each of the 49 days (usually the night or afternoon before), either via text or email.  Last year 75 friends were on the list, and I’d like to offer it to you, my readers.  If you wish to receive the message (you can cancel at any time) you may comment below or email me with your preference (text/email) and contact info.

I am at

Have a wonderful Passover to my Jewish readers!