Book Reviews: Prepare for Pesach…B’Simchah! by Chava Dumas (The Judaica Press 2014) & Pesach Guess Who? by Ariella Stern, with illustrations by Patti Argoff (Hachai 2016)


Reviewed by Rebecca Klempner

Just as in her first three “Lift the Flap” books (covering Chanukah, brachos, and Purim), Angeleno Ariella Stern fills her latest cook, Pesach Guess Who?, with wacky, rhyming riddles just right for the 4-8 year old set. Hachai teamed Stern up again with illustrator Patti Argoff – her colorful pictures depict a lively family cheerfully preparing and celebrating the Passover holiday. Younger children will learn about Passover, while older kids will enjoy testing their knowledge of the holiday. The book includes “bonus questions” and a glossary at the back. Pesach Guess Who? can be found at Jewish book retailers online and in brick-and-mortar stores.

Really, the best time to read Prepare for Pesach…B’Simchah! by Chava Dumas is months ahead of Passover. Dumas takes the “slow but steady” approach to Pesach cleaning. “Although we can clean for Pesach in less than four weeks, the idea of cleaning for Pesach b’simchah in forty days reflects this concept of utilizing forty days to change ourselves for the better.” (p. 27)

Nonetheless, readers will find many strategies, tips, and nuggets of wisdom in Dumas’s Pesach primer that they can use even at this “late” stage in the game. The actual directions for Pesach cleaning come in the second half of the book. The guidelines are those of Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l, and, yibadel l’chaim, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits, shlit”a. Their rulings are are Ashkenazi but much more lenient than many other approaches, particularly in the Hareidi world.

Dumas discusses all sorts of special situations – when health considerations prohibit cleaning for Pesach, when Pesach falls out on Motzei Shabbat, and how to react when things go wrong. Practical guidelines like how to feed yourself and your family during the holiday and during those pre-Pesach days – including how to use up your chometz, tasty kitniyos meal ideas, and what to eat in those tricky hours on erev Pesach when you can no longer eat chometz and you can’t yet eat matzah. These sensible tips are accompanied by ways to enhance the spiritual aspects of the holiday.

I particularly appreciated Dumas’s sage and frugal advice about chol hamoed activities. She also includes advice to engage all family members into Pesach preparations, among them jobs children of different ages can do, and offers safety guidelines and fun erev Pesach activities. Readers with children will benefit from these parenting pointers.

Interspersed throughout the book are lots of snippets from personal essays and poems on the topic of Passover and Passover cleaning. Many are hilarious, others are heartwarming, and you will want to share them with others. My favorite additions were a couple of techinos – informal prayers not found in standard siddurim – that Mrs. Dumas included. One was an English translation of an old Yiddish prayer to recite before cleaning for Pesach during the month of Nissan. I found it so inspirational that I printed it out and taped it to my wall! The other prayer, equally meaningful, was written by a contemporary woman who built her emunah by writing her own “Hallel” prayer where she elaborated upon her gratitude to Hashem.
I did find fault with two aspects of the book: There are many, many pages devoted to how to spring clean and declutter even though Mrs. Dumas tells readers repeatedly that we don’t have to do these things at Pesach time. I would prefer not to have such topics at all covered in Pesach prep books – they just feed into the competitive attitude so many people adopt at this time of year.

I also wondered at the chapter on food allergies and sensitivities – which veered a bit into the realm of “alternative medicine” and did not directly discuss Pesach preparation. In fact, Dumas didn’t really address how to cope with allergies and sensitivities while cooking yom tov meals at all, even though the abundance of eggs and nuts in Pesach cuisine makes this a particularly pertinent issue for many families.

On the other hand, I very much appreciated some of the general reminders about using time wisely and easing stress that Dumas listed in Chapters 19 and 20. I’ll definitely be using those as we get ready for chag!

Overall, I think that both newcomers to Passover preparation and “oldtimers” will appreciate Dumas’s Prepare for Pesach…B’Simchah! There are lots of workbook pages, calendars and charts which I’ll be adopting this year, and I found myself highlighting quotes all over the place as I read.

“We don’t have to experience cleaning for Pesach as bondage, nor view the Seder night as our liberation from weeks of stress and anxiety,” Dumas writes (p. 16). With this nifty book, I think I might sit down at the Seder table with a truer, happier sense of liberty.