When I was a child Passover was my favorite holiday. I liked the Seder and I always felt a little better by the end of the week physically and spiritually. It took an effort to keep Passover (somewhat strictly) living in a non-Jewish community. In high school, I was called ‘Fruit Lady’ because my lunches would consist of an orange, two apples, and a banana. Granted, as a child, I wasn’t responsible for preparing the house for Passover. As an adult, there are many things I grumble about when it comes to Passover.
It’s expensive to buy new versions of coffee, oil, etc. each year. In addition to the items purchased for the week itself, we always end up eating out for at least a day or two before and after Passover while the kitchen is being switched over in order to not contaminate anything. It implies a certain financial status expectation for one to observe Passover ‘correctly’. Not to mention as the parent without a day-job, the majority of the preparation falls to me. However, I am nothing if not a list maker, and my lists keep me sane during this time of year.
Are we the most observant family around? Not by a long shot. Are we more observant than many? Probably. We’ve been in our house a bit over 12 years now and my lists still get tweaked and improved every year. The first few years had a lot of resemblance to my college years where I simply taped up the cabinets and used paper plates for a week, living off fruit and plain matzah because I hated the idea of having a full kitchen’s worth of stuff that only gets used one week a year. The Passovers where I was pregnant were also on the side of barely observed. I remember one year when I was recovering from pneumonia I simply handed my husband the list and said ‘good luck’. He pulled an epic all-nighter.
Now, I know exactly which cabinets to clean out and what will be stored in them for the week. I have an inventory of exactly how many bowls and spatulas I own. Every year I wonder why we put ourselves through this. I asked a few friends to give me feedback on my first draft. One of them commented that as a non-Jew she didn’t realize Passover involved such a literal upheaval of our lives. While I certainly might give myself more slack if I was living alone, she did challenge me to wonder why I’ve always pushed myself to keep Passover to the best of my ability year and year, even before the husband and children came along. I realized it’s the holiday I give most significance to in my life.
I liked the Seder because I like the story being told over and over again. For me, it’s like spending a lifetime rehearsing for a play. Trying to find new meaning in each retelling. I’ve been lucky enough to never have to pack a bag and run, or simply run. I’ve never had to walk away from a home without knowing if I’ll ever see it again. I liked that the week was a challenge: A time to stop and think about every bite you take. I like that distance between what you desire and what you actually consume. Passover was a temporary additional step to the self-imposed pause of keeping kosher.
Two years ago I changed my diet significantly and the significance of Passover for me was almost nonexistent because there was almost no change in my diet. The holiday became an intense amount of preparation to eat exactly the same foods with a half stocked kitchen and more ‘there’s nothing to eat’ complaints from the kids than usual.
This year, I’m realizing I need to find new ways to enjoy the holiday and to create an excitement for my kids that goes beyond the Seder itself.
People often present religion as a science with exact right and wrong answers, but for me, it has to be art in order for me to participate. While there is a formal structure in place, how you are moved by your experiences are different for every person. I can’t live in fear of making a misstep and losing my community. I also have to feel like I’m allowed to honor my family’s Sephardic traditions living in a predominantly Ashkenazi community. I grew up eating kitniyot and I’ve never considered giving it up. The joy of passing down the tradition of hitting each other with green onions during dayenu is a small example I want to be able to pass down those pieces to my kids in addition to all the wonderful stuff they’re learning from our community. I want my children to feel confident and safe in asking questions.
I’ve often heard that you can’t pick and choose a religion, but we can. We do every day in every action. Reaching out to someone you disagree with or shutting them out is a choice. I choose each year to review my lists and set regular life aside. An attempt to feel a connection to a time and place I didn’t exist in, yet I know there are plenty of people alive today who have experienced such literal upheaval.
This year there is no overlap between Spring Break and Passover for my children. I smile thinking of the matzah-and-chocolate sandwiches and massive amounts of fruit they’ll go to school with. How the kitchen looks crazy covered in aluminum foil and perhaps evenly proudly tell their friends how they helped Momma clean for Passover.