Passover Not A Holiday For Conservationists

My resolution for 2017 has been to make small, intentional changes to reduce consumption and waste. As my children would say: ‘I want to be an Earth Keeper.’ I’ve paid more attention to how long I shower, I’m turning off lights and electronics when leaving a room, I signed up for the city’s compost, and I always bring my reusable bags. I was taking nice small steps.

Then Passover came.

This last week I’ve come across electronic and physical advertisements for community Earth Day celebrations. It gave me a pang of guilt to come back to my kitchen and see all the waste that had been created the week before.

On a normal week we usually produce about one bag of garbage. It’s higher in winter when I have to buy our produce from the store and much of it comes packaged. It’s on my list of things to see if I can reduce. The week before Passover, we filled our garbage can, plus we had to use stickers to have them pick up the extra bag that didn’t fit in the can. The week after Passover, I hate to even think about it.

In our home, we covered the stove and countertops with aluminum foil or contract paper for the week of Passover. The look of snark I’ve always given my husband has been related to the extra work, the confusion about what people did before aluminum foil and why whatever that practice was is no longer acceptable. This year, I looked at the empty rolls of paper towels, the stack of blue painters tape we’d use to secure everything into place. All I could think about was the landfill that contact paper and tape were headed for in just over a week. This is not walking the walk. Yet it occurred because I had no other suggestions of how to balance our religious practice with my desire to improve.

When we were first cohabitating I resisted having a set of dishes for Passover. All we need is a pot, a pan, a cutting board and knife – I wanted to use plastic and paper for everything else. My concerns were aimed at the lack of storage space and the cost of purchasing essentially a second kitchen’s worth of stuff. For me, Passover has always been about living without for a week. If I have all the modern conveniences of my day to day life, what makes this week different? We didn’t have time to let the bread rise before leaving Egypt, but I’ve put in probably 20-25 hours spread out over a few days’ time getting ready for Passover.

In addition to my desire to be an Earth Keeper, it’s pretty hard to not think about refugees this year and their connection to our story as Jews. I went through a phase in high school reading a lot of Holocaust literature. Story after story of packing a bag and leaving, not knowing if you’ll ever return. I wonder if it would be better to honor our ancestors by spending those prep hours thinking about our current society’s connection to stuff. We think we love our stuff so much, but I know that deep down if we had to make a choice; if it became a matter of life and death, we could walk away from everything.

I dislike feeling guilty over the same thing multiple times; so now that I’ve been awakened to my desire to change, I need to make a plan. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve come up with.

  • A friend showed me some shelf liner they purchased to cover their counter tops rather than aluminum foil and I’ve already got that on my list. They still have to use a lot of tape and foil on the stove, but it’s something.
  • We used a lot of paper products. Both before and after the week itself while trying to switch the kitchen from one set to the other without them inhabiting the same space at the same time. Next year I’ll meal plan better. Meals that are cold and can be eaten with less waste. Cut and wash more fruits and vegetables ahead of time. Reduce the ease of simply going out.
  • We own a set of 8 dishes, but last year we bought a table that holds 11 and we filled it three times during the week. We also supplemented with paper for a few meals. Perhaps it’s worth investing in a few more dishes, and making sure the paper products we do keep in the house from now on are compostable.

It doesn’t have to be fast change. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent perfect next year, but it has to be an improvement from this year. I’m a firm believer that we can always learn new things, we can always work on ourselves. Paying attention to how we impact our community and our world feel like a great way to live Judaism.