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Mar 23

Passover is hard

This isn’t one of those “getting ready for Passover with the cleaning and the baking and the cooking and the seders and the dishes and the cleaning and oh yeah, did I mention the cleaning” kind of posts.   Because Passover is hard for all of those reasons.  In theory, and in reality for many people I know, Passover is when your house is supposed to be completely chametz-free.   That means anything made with grain mixed with water and allowed to ferment, according to my friends at wikipedia.  It also means pretty much everything my kids eat, with the exception of meat, fruits and vegetables.  Pasta, cereal, cookies, bread, tortillas, pizza, etc.

Keeping kosher for Passover is a thing – and some people do it, some don’t.  My family does.  I don’t like doing it.  I don’t agree with the premise, I don’t like it.  I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it.  I like keeping the version of kosher that I do keep.  I don’t mix milk with meat, because to kill an animal and then serve it with the milk that was supposed to sustain it, to me, is morally wrong.  But chicken isn’t meat, according to that definition, and I have an easier time following rules when they make sense to me.  Not mixing cheese with chicken seems like just following rules for the sake of following rules, and while I understand the theology behind it, I find that blind adherence to the rules just makes me really, really itchy.

But my kids, oh my kids.  They love keeping kosher for Passover.  They love the dietary restrictions, they love the specialness of this time of year.  They look forward to “Passover Shopping” all year, and nothing makes them  happier than when they’re making our annual Passover Plague Posters (which is a fun activity that costs me no more than $1 worth of posterboard at the dollar store and is both educational and time consuming – because they make these really detailed posters we hang up every year).  Everything they eat, they want to make sure is “kosher for Passover.”    Marc has always kept kosher for Passover, and he adores that the kids are so into it.  I don’t.

It’s very similar to what he goes thru in December, I think.  Because even though he knows that Christmas is important to me, and it’s a link between my kids and my own family history that I want to continue, even though he knows that he wants to honor my mother and it would devastate her if we gave up Christmas – intellectually, he knows all those things.  But it still is hard, and alien, and makes him feel like an outsider in his own home.

That’s how I feel about Passover.  I like the holiday, I like the seders, I’d even happily throw matzoh into the mix for a week or so.  But strict adherence to it is really, really hard for me,  because it’s not what I grew up with.   It feels strange to me, and I don’t like that there are so many arbitrary rules, like if you are one sort of Jew, you can eat rice, and if you aren’t, then you can’t.  I decided when I converted that I’d follow the most liberal guidelines, so we eat rice and corn and peanut butter.  But it all feels artificial to me, and it’s probably one of the hardest Jewish holidays for me to connect with, on a personal level.

And it’s definitely a challenge with my family – because inevitably, Easter and Passover coincide.  I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to make the kids feel bad if they wanted to participate in the Easter celebration at my mother’s house, and eat the bread or cake or cookies.  And I don’t make them feel bad, I don’t have to.  They’ve decided on their own to keep kosher for Passover, so now I make sure that we have Passover friendly treats for them there.   We’ll have macaroons and chocolate covered matzoh.

Part of the trouble I’m having right now is that I’m doing research on “mixed” marriages, and interfaith issues in general, and reading about too much of it makes me depressed.  For so many couples, this is really hard – and I just finished reading two books about interfaith marriages that were written in the 1980s and they just made me miserable.   All these interviews with kids (who are actually adults my age) who were raised by parents who tried to do it interfaith, and now the kids feel as though they aren’t tied to any particular religion and have no spiritual home at all.  I know that’s not what we’re doing – we made very deliberate decisions around their religious upbringing.  My kids know they’re Jewish, and their Jewish experience is obviously going to be very different from my own.  For me, following the rules on Passover seems arbitrary.  For them, it’s just part of the process.  Part of what makes it easier for them to understand and appreciate the history of their people.  I want that.  I want them to feel secure and validated – and so I’m googling recipes for more and ever interesting Passover food, and I’ve mostly talked my mother out of the pasta dish she was planning for next Sunday.  And I’ll do my best to keep my Passover issues to myself – and I can always sneak out for pizza and breadsticks while they’re at school :-)

 

 

3 comments

  1. Laura Dilts

    Melissa, I agree its hard and I’m the Jewish member of our family. We don’t keep kosher and we usually do a Seder. My parents are not religious so tomorrow we are having a meal with Passover food and not a Seder.
    We were not invited to anyone’s home and with my work schedule and two people on FMLA I’m not inviting people to my home. Another Director of Volunteers needs a Passover meal for a patient at the Worcester Mental Hospital, so I made little kugels and two types of chicken, individual pieces to bring to the director so his patient can have Passover since we could not find another way. I’m leaving work early Monday afternoon so we can have Passover meal at our house just for our family. I love the food and the holiday,hate the stress. I do not ride my house of all chametz-free because I do not keep kosher the rest of the year so why should I do this step? Happy Passover.

    1. Melissa Cohen

      Laura – I’d love it if you’d come to our house next Saturday. We aren’t doing a Seder at home this year, we’re going to Marc’s family’s house on Monday and the BI is having a Seder on Tuesday, and we’re also leading a Seder at our friend’s church on Wednesday – but we’re having a big Passover Open House on Saturday at our house in the afternoon. Thanks so much for your response, I was a little tentative about posting this, your response made me feel better :-)

  2. Sara

    Sissa: Suffice it to say that plenty of non-mixed couples grapple with these issues. That being said: I understand that doing something — anything — different from the way you were raised can feel foreign, scary and weird. And I totally get that as a convert to Judaism, one feels this need to “do everything Jewish,” because let’s face it, Judaism is a close-knit tribe, and it’s really hard to join a tribe. Passover is full of ritual. Some people love rituals, religious or not. For them, great. Ritual can be comforting, familiar, meaningful. But if a ritual doesn’t resonate — if it feels like a chore — than I say, what’s the point? Look, I’m Jewish by birth. I have close relatives in Israel. I’ve BEEN to Israel. I was bat mitzvahed and confirmed. I pepper my conversations with Yiddishisms. I can recognize a Jew by their name, their face, the way they speak. (Call it Jew-dar!) Judaism is in my blood, but the ritual and religious aspects are not central to my life. As such (and here’s the point I’ve been getting to): As far as I’m concerned, eating matzoh is a fitting enough tribute on Passover — and then, only if you like it. The blind adherence (emphasis on blind; again, if you enjoy it, go for it!) to every single nuance and even the act of clearing your house of all bread products is silly. No need to feel guilty if it doesn’t resonate with you. :-)

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