Berkeley cleaners offer a blessing with elbow grease

Having trouble finding a cleaning service willing to wash windows? That's a perennial challenge.

How about one eager to help put up a mezuzah or make a kitchen kosher? How about a cleaning service whose worker blesses one's abode each time he concludes scrubbing the mildew out of the bathtub?

It's all available through the Eco-Kosher Cleaning Service in Berkeley, which will mop floors and clear out dust-bunnies using environment-friendly cleaning products that are also certified kosher.

Yehudit and Gershon Steinberg-Caudill started the business three years ago, after the couple moved from Boise, Idaho, to be close to Chochmat HaLev, a Jewish Renewal education and meditation center in Berkeley. Eco-Kosher has become so successful that it has a waiting list of potential clients.

Among those currently being served by the Eco-Kosher Cleaning Service are Chochmat HaLev and the homes of some 40 families, including many who run the gamut of Jewish engagement, from unaffiliated to Orthodox.

"We want people to start looking at their homes as sacred space. What we do on Shabbat at our table is linked to the Temple" in Jerusalem and the rituals of blessing and sacrifice that were performed there in ancient times, said Yehudit Steinberg-Caudill. "Each of us is housing the Temple within our home."

As part of that philosophy, a hechsher (kosher certification symbol) isn't enough for the couple to use a cleaning product.

Though hechshers are most commonly associated with food, some observant Jews seek out cleansers that are free of animal products, so as not to taint tableware reserved for dairy meals.

Chlorine-based Clorox, for example, is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. But chlorine, the active ingredient in the bleach, is highly toxic and damages the ozone layer, she said, so Eco-Kosher won't use it.

Eco-Kosher instead relies on products such as Bon Ami, Murphy's Oil, Dr. Bronner's organic cleanser, and others made with melaleuca oil from the Australian tea tree.

Most of the products have a Baltimore-based Star K hechsher.

Gershon Steinberg-Caudill has long been involved in the sanitation business. For more than two decades he supervised an ice-cream plant, and one of his tasks was to get rid of the harmful E. coli bacteria.

The ammonia and chlorine the plant used to kill the bacteria were making him sick, which helped motivate the couple to look for alternatives once they came to Berkeley.

Eco-Kosher's spiritual component attracts some of its clients.

They view Gershon Steinberg-Caudill "as their Jewish contact, so he takes a lot of care with all them and brings to them a cup of loving kindness," customer Jody Feld said. "If he sees that someone is in pain or suffering, he'll engage them in conversation and see what they need."

Feld, a writer and Jewish educator, and her husband, Chanan Feld, a certified mohel, hired Gershon Steinberg-Caudill to clean their Berkeley house primarily because of his attitude.

"He has a very holy attitude toward his work. He comes and cleans our house right before Shabbos and he knows, if I have him clean the stove, that he has to use a new sponge" for reasons of kashrut, she said.

Between cleaning jobs, Gershon Steinberg-Caudill is studying to be a rabbi.

The pair plans to hire assistants willing to work the way they do. They also hope to raise the consciousness of area synagogues and other Jewish institutions about the importance of cleaning with ecologically friendly products.

Eco-Kosher sells a cleaning kit for $49. It includes a six-month supply of the cleaning products, a user's manual and a blessing to recite when the task is complete.

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