Learning to Like Passover, 2020
I’ve never really liked Passover. Easily bottom three Jewish holidays for me. Somewhere between the fish balls and hiding the cracker, they lost me.
It’s pretty challenging, as a member of the tribe, to hate Passover. It’s one of those holidays that feels like the SAT essay portion — everyone gets the same prompt, but each bluebook is filled with a different style of bullshit. That makes it extremely difficult to justify your hatred for the holiday to someone who takes familial vodka shots at their Seder. It really depends on how the holiday goes down at your house.
If you’re not familiar, here are the basics:
In remembrance of the Jewish people’s glorious exodus from Egypt some 3000 years ago, we celebrate a week long holiday every April. Festivities kick off with the Seder, a 2–5 hour event, during which we read the Hagada (the story of Passover), bless and eat a collection of unpopular foods such as horseradish and raw parsley, and sing Zimmer-esque show tunes. As part of the storytelling, we learn that Pharaoh was quite the moody little asshole and, in the race to skedaddle from Egypt before he changed his mind, the Israelites had to bake their bread without letting the dough rise first. As a direct result, we spend the next week eating A4 sized crackers and refraining from consuming any foods that dare rise beyond their original form. This means seven days of dense flourless chocolate cakes and some creative egg dishes. There’s also usually a brisket involved.
With advanced modifications, Passover begins three days earlier, with your mother yelling she “doesn’t need any help” before she guilts you into cleaning out the pantry or running a Clorox wipe on those little ledges at the bottom of the walls in your house. They’re just filthy, look at them! Some families will partake in several Seders, as to make appearances at all the hottest tables in town, or to host two sets of in-laws that just don’t get along.
My family, being from Israel, comes with a collection of other traditions and rituals that some of my American friends just can’t relate to. We don’t go to work or school during the observed days of Passover. We whip out a bin of Kosher pots and pans to cook for the Seder. We eat off of a set of glass dinner plates that make me nervous. We also bag all of the food that isn’t Kosher for Passover and shove it into a cabinet which we then seal with a line of masking tape.
“Where’s the Nutella?”
“In the time out cabinet”
I think that after doing this for a few years, I mostly just felt over it. It’s not a fun and friendly holiday like Hannukah. It’s not a bummer holiday like Yom Kippur. It’s this weird in-between where no one’s really happy, but we pretend to be because we’re celebrating this extremely symbolic, pivotal moment in our collective memory. It’s a holiday I began to dread every year: something I just had to get through so I could party after. An excuse to eat a lot of pasta later on because I don’t eat pasta for a full week.
But this year is different. This year, getting ready for Passover was easier because we were all home. Shopping for Passover was hard because we couldn’t make the rounds to every grocery store. The Seder was casual because we couldn’t have any guests.
Celebrating Passover in this new context has been unique and interesting. It’s been something normal amidst a whole lot of chaos. A set of motions that we go through every year, without exception for a virus, that has brought me a small comfort in a time of overwhelming dread. Passover really isn’t so bad in a pandemic.
So, with the Seder 3 just days behind us, I wanted to note the things I’ve found unique and comforting in this year’s holiday. Dare I say, some things I actually love about Passover.
The Burning Buns
My favorite Passover tradition happens around 10 am the day of the Seder. After we’ve cleaned and before we can start cooking, we partake in the ceremonial burning of the bread to symbolize that we’re ready to be rid of these carbs for the foreseeable future. We pile hamburger buns, year old frozen and thawed pita, a few cookies, and a ripped up Trader Joes paper bag into our little barbecue grill and just let it burn. I’ve never been to a Weight Watchers meeting, but I assume this is pretty much how they went down until Oprah came along.
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Something that made my smile this year was the number of social media posts I saw featuring big Seders happening over Zoom. People who I’ve never seen make a Passover post have been sharing really sweet photos of half full wine glasses in front of a computer screen of tiled family faces. It’s a moment among many throughout this worldwide lockdown that I’ve felt like a part of something big. We’ve all embraced the absurdity of the situation and are experiencing this shared, tech fueled, alternative version of Judaism. It’s unbelievably comforting.
Will it Bake?
Remember that show “will it blend?” where they turned iPads and Bieber biographies into smoothies? Well on Passover, we like to play a similar game where we mix a bunch of sweet K for P ingredients and see if the result is edible. Kind of like “Chopped” with zero competition. Last night a turned a Ziploc bag of trailmix and an egg white into some stellar chocolate cookies. A small victory to make an ordinary day better.
Kosher Movie Night
I only recently learned that people who aren’t Jewish casually watch the The Prince of Egypt. To me, this has always been our movie. No Passover complete without a family wide watch party of the greatest film ever animated. Quite possibly the only reason we know what this holiday is all about. When my dad translates the Hebrew in the Seder for my siblings, he simply mentions to the corresponding scene from the movie and we all move on. In the weeks leading up to this year’s holiday, my quarantine walks have been set to this unbelievable score, always breaking into a light jog when the final chorus of “Deliver Us” hits. These 90 minutes are among the few throughout this pandemic during which I could completely forget what’s going on outside.
For some reason, once bread isn’t an option, all other food rules go out the window. Mashed potatoes for breakfast, macaroons for lunch, a full pack of matzah and maybe a pickle for dinner. There’s a real fuck it mentality when it comes to feeding yourself this week, so when you couple that with quarantine rules, the real fun begins. I plan on eating a plain baked potato in my bathtub for dinner tonight. Why the fuck not.
Every Seder ends with the same phrase. We say “Next year in Jerusalem” to express our hope for being somewhere better next time we reconvene for this purpose. We don’t really take this literally. I have no plans to move to Jerusalem by next April. But, given the circumstances this year, we can definitely spin some new meaning to these words. “Next year, with more guests”, “Next year, with everyone healthy”, “Next year with all the foods we couldn’t go out and get”. At a time that hopefully marks the halfway point for our lockdown, we all recited the same hopeful note towards the future. That makes me smile too.