By Alyson Kay
There was no spring break at the Jewish kitchens in College Park. During the week, staff at Hillel, Chabad and MEOR prepared for Passover.
At Hillel, the dairy kitchen gets converted into a Passover kitchen. As a result, Hillel will not serve dairy products during the time between spring break and Passover, said Allison Buchman, the director of operations at Hillel.
To start, staff at Hillel remove every dairy utensil or cooking item, wrap it up, put it on racks and take it out of the kitchen. The only things left are the stove, oven, tables and refrigerator.
The equipment then gets cleaned thoroughly. The Hillel staff scrubs and power washes everything thoroughly for three or four days. The kitchen will not be kashered until it’s clean. To ensure that the kitchen is clean enough, it goes through an inspection.
“It’s inspected by our mashgiach,” said John Gallagher, the food manager at Hillel. “And if he’s not satisfied we clean, clean, clean, scrub some more.”
A mashgiach, or supervisor, is a person who makes sure that Jewish establishments are kept kosher and food is prepared in a kosher way.
Once the cleaning is up to the mashgiach’s standards, he will kasher everything.
The kashering process for any kitchen involves time and a lot of heat. The process is different for different types of equipment. The stove top burners, oven racks and plates are put into the oven. The oven is then set to its highest temperature, and the equipment is left inside for an hour.
Other things, such as sinks, tables and shelves are kashered using boiling water. The surfaces aren’t used for 24 hours – then water boiled in a Passover pot, using the already Passover-ready stove, is poured into every part of each surface.
But cleaning the kitchen isn’t the only part of preparing for Passover. Both Hillel and Chabad must order kosher-for-Passover foods.
“We really have to have orders in about two months out for Passover, because all of the distributors only really get in what they have ordered for Passover,” Gallagher said. “So, they have to clean their facilities and get their Passover foods in as well.”
Chabad Rabbi Eli Backman said the decision of which method to use for kashering an item can be decided by how the item got un-kasher in the first place.
“The trick is that I want to use the same method that it became un-kasher and then go a step beyond to make it hotter,” said Backman.
He said refrigerators just need to be thoroughly cleaned out. Only after the kitchen has been completely kashered can the Passover pots, pans, knives and other materials be brought into the kitchen.
At Chabad, the kitchen at the center is transformed into a Passover kitchen. The other kitchen is closed for the holiday. The center’s kitchen is cleaned and kashered much like the kitchen at Hillel.
“If I can survive without it, I put it away, lock it up, close it up and be done,” Backman said.
Like Hillel, the facility at Chabad has cooking utensils that are only brought out for Passover. However, at Chabad, the oven used throughout the year gets closed and is replaced with an oven that is used for Passover.
Since there’s still time in between spring break and Passover, Chabad gets creative to serve non-Passover foods on the Friday closest to Passover, while keeping the kitchen kosher.
“For 15 plus years already, we do it in Annapolis Hall and we call it ‘Wings and Kugel,’ and we serve chicken wings, salad and kugel,” said Backman.
Unlike the other two kitchens, MEOR doesn’t serve food at its physical location. Instead, staff members open their own homes in Silver Spring to people who want to eat at MEOR during Passover, or people who don’t want the formal meals served at Hillel or Chabad.
Rabbi Ari Koretzky said MEOR has been doing this for at least ten years. He said offering food off-campus in places that would be prepared anyway requires less work than serving food at the main facility during the holiday would.
“In general, preparing for Passover is a labor-intensive process,” said Koretzky. “Hopefully a labor of love. But it is an effort. There is a significant effort involved wherever you’re preparing it.”
MEOR is also taking a group of students on a program to educate them about Passover and teach them different aspects of it. At MEOR, all the non-Passover food is either stored or sold for Passover, depending on whether it would spoil during the holiday.