Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Cleanliness next to Bognor Regis
I used to have a poster on the wall of my office that read, “When all is said and done there’s been far more said than done”. There is that wonderful bit in Pulp Fiction with the Assassin who quotes from the Bible before shooting, because that sounded real cold-blooded, but he never actually thought about what it meant. I always loved the wittiness of the poster but never really thought about what it meant. As I listened to the umpteenth story of someone being told by the landlady of a holiday house that Jews leave the place dirty, I suddenly understood that poster.
The community has been divided, for as long as I can remember, into two camps. The Holiday Schmitzers and the Pitzers. The Schmitzers are slobs, famous for koshering their holiday kitchens as if it were for Pesach. They furiously scrub the whole place down then pour scalding water over everything they can. Then, armed with paper and tape, they proceed to gift wrap the counters and cookers and fridges and all in a frenzy of paper and foil. Anyone looking on from outside could be impressed by the obsessive cleanliness these slobs adhere to. A visit a week later will usually reveal the original paper all still there but now looking slightly more lived in. Meaty stains on one side only and cereal remains on the other stand testament to the strict adherence to some laws, if not those of hygiene, while a heap of black plastic bags is stuffed with enough paper and plastic-ware to clear a hectare of rain forest. The general level of tidiness completes the picture of laidback bliss. They will usually leave the apartment far tidier than it was most of the time they were there just by clearing up most of the trash to take back home with them. So they just don’t get what the landlord is in such a twist about - and he gets labeled an anti-Semite.
The Pitzers on the other hand have heard all these stories and they are paranoid about being bundled in with them. So they become obsessive cleaners and they won’t leave the house after breakfast till all the plates are dried and back in the cupboard and the back steps have been scrubbed. They leave flowers behind in a vase when they leave, having waxed the kitchen floor and bought a special product to polish the taps.
Although both are wrong I much prefer the latter, of course. Unfortunately they are the minority, as we all know. An old Yiddish joke is doing the rounds again now that I have to repeat for those who do not go regularly to shul on our Hill. When God made the Passover miracle and killed all the Egyptian first-born, He instructed the Jews to make a sign in blood on their doorposts so that it should be obvious which is a Jewish house. “Why”, asked some Jewish scholar, “did God need to have a sign made on the door when anybody can recognize a Jewish house just by the state it’s in?” His Rebbe sagely replied, “That happened before the Jews left Egypt, the Torah had not yet been given then”.
It is certainly true that it is harder to keep a place tidy when you have had to bring a mountain of food with you that is unavailable there. Having to bring all your kitchen utensils doesn’t help either and the endless changes of clothing that seem necessary even on holiday compounds all that. I therefore disagree with those who strive for perfection just to deflect any possible and unjustified criticism almost as much as I resent the Schmitzers.
My severe criticism I reserve for the Rabbanim. The few hard-core schmitzers have been doing their dirty job for years. The issue, like the joke, has been around for years, yet no Rabbi has roundly condemned this behaviour and punished a perpetrator. The reason they don’t might have to do with the fact that number of their own could be among the culprits, or it could just be that the whole subject is just not sexy enough to bother about. We the people however do think it is, we have been saying it and hearing it for years and we are still waiting for action. The honest truth is there is nothing they can do. The Rabbi’s are powerless because they have lost our respect. And that is what counts when all is said and done.

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