What is "chametz"? When I was a child, I thought chametz was Yiddish slang for cookies, rye bread, and bagels. It's really almost any product that contains one or more of these five grains - wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye. Chametz includes not only bread and bagels, but the flour they are made from.
According to their religion, Jews may not own, eat or benefit from chametz during Passover. They must consume it, destroy it, or sell it before Passover starts. Not a single crumb can remain in a house (except for a few that are hidden for Jewish children to find and bring to be destroyed), or a warehouse, or a business.
What or who is the Passover goy? There is a loophole in Jewish ritual law big enough to fit wagonloads of chametz through. The Passover goy is a reliable non-Jewish person who takes posession of chametz for the duration of Passover.
Why would my father, a well-known atheist, choose to be a Passover goy? Why not? Helping neighbors is a mitzvah. Looking back, he was also the only person in the community who was not a member of a church that actively sought converts. If you want a no-hassle, no sermons Passover goy, atheists and pagans are probably better choices than someone from the high-pressure Christian religions.
I also realize now why there were fresh-made cookies, challah, and rye bread in the boxes the Jewish families brought to him. It's not as though the families were unaware that Passover was coming and accidentally made bread. It was an unspoken "thank you" for respecting their beliefs.
What are the duties of the Passover goy? Every year, my father made room in our house and garage for the chametz, and did the following:
- Bought and stored their flour and leavening agents.
- Bought their baked goods.
- Bought and stored any other goods that had chametz in the ingredient list, such as the wheat noodles in canned ravioli, or the wheat starch in a condiment.
- Bought and stored any wheat-based liquor and beer.
- Stored their dishes and cooking utensils that were used during the year, because the Jewish family was using their special Passover set.
- Sold it all back after Passover ... minus the baked goods. We ate those.