Tonight, Jews in the United States will begin their celebration of Passover, one of the most holy festivals in the Jewish calendar.
If you’ve seen Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments you know Passover’s origin. The week-long festival commemorates God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a new nation, as told in Exodus in the Bible.
Children of Israel were told to eat the original Passover meal “with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste.” (Exodus 12:11) In short, be ready for anything.
Many lessons of Passover like this are valuable in emergency preparedness. For example: be able to evacuate in short notice.
Celebrating Jews eat special Passover matzah, a large cracker with no leaven, a rising agent like yeast. Matzah represents the haste with which Israelites left Egypt: so quickly their bread didn’t have time to rise, according to Louis Jacobs in The Book of Jewish Practice. When modern Jews make matzah, once they add water, they have 18 minutes to roll out and cook it. That way, the flour doesn’t have time to produce its own leaven, according to Jacobs.
Many disasters can force you to leave home in less than 18 minutes, like fire or flood.
Shelly Robertson, of American Fork, Utah, used to live in an area where wildfires came close almost every year. She kept all her family’s emergency supplies in two large duffel bags in her front closet, but realized that dragging the bags and keeping track of her three young children would be awkward at best.
“The worst-case scenario is on foot with three kids,” she said.
She is rebuilding her emergency kits to account for scenarios like sheltering in place, leaving in the car, and leaving on foot. She recently bought backpacks for her whole family at Emergency Essentials. She filled a backpack for each child with food, an emergency sleeping bag, toiletries, lights, and activities. She plans to add clothes, a family photo, and a card with personal information like medical needs and allergies. She put similar supplies and larger items like a first-aid kit and radio in backpacks for her and her husband.
“I made a list of everything we’d need to grab, and made it accessible, so if there was a wildfire we could grab everything we need and be out the door in under five minutes,” she said.
Jews celebrating Passover must make yearly preparations for the week-long celebration. Observant Jews spend the week before Passover in a housecleaning commotion. They often pull out a separate set of dishes and utensils used only at Passover. They scrub every corner of the home then either destroy or sell all their food containing leaven to ensure none remains.
As Robertson began reorganizing her emergency kits, she realized hydrogen peroxide had leaked all over one of her old first-aid kits and dissolved its bag. Now, she keeps everything in separate zipper-style plastic bags.
“You can reuse them to hold leftover food so there’s no leak. With applesauce pouches, I don’t want those to leak all over everything, and ruin everything in the backpack,” she said.
She also learned that she needs to check every corner of her emergency kit every year when she took a whiff of her deodorant and lip balm and realized they’d gone rancid.
“I hoisted (the deodorant) up, and it smelled awful. I thought, ‘That’s not going to do me a lot of good. We’ll already smell bad, and that’s going to make things worse,’” she said.
Finally, children play a major role during Passover. The night before Passover begins, they play a game, searching for ten hidden pieces of bread or cereal. During the Passover meal, the youngest capable child asks four traditional questions about Passover meaning and symbols.
Robertson said she decided to reorganize her emergency kit when she realized her children were growing old enough to carry their own emergency supplies.
“Originally I had two duffel bags and I was thinking I could grab the diaper bag,” she said. “I [didn’t] have enough stuff. … I have been putting this project off for too long.”
Robertson chose to reorganize this spring, right after her income tax refund arrived and when stores were holding case lot sales. But she also plans to set aside a little bit of money each month to add one or two things to the emergency kits. That way, she doesn’t have to spend a lot of money at once.
Passover is an annual holiday. Make a review of emergency supplies into the same thing.
Jacobs, Louis, The Book of Jewish Practice. Behrman House, Inc., West Orange, NJ, 1987.