Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Which I Hate Passover

When I was a kid, Passover was all kinds of fun. We spent weeks (WEEKS!) cleaning. We covered the counters in foil and purged the oven of leavened crumbs and filled an allotted section of the kitchen with matza and macaroons and cloudy pink dish soap the color of Bazooka bubble gum. There was Passover lipstick and Passover paper plates and Passover napkins. My sister and I would hang around outside while our mother vacuumed the car, squabbling idly as dust flew around and the air smelled of Windex and illicit crackers. Our chametz (leavened goods) were temporarily sold to Christians, who probably spent at least part of every Easter slicing up the spiral ham and wondering what those wacky Jews were putting in the Manischewitz.

It was kind of like camping indoors for a week. We used different dishes and ate matzafied versions of French toast and pizza. The stores were denuded of potato starch and eggs, Jelly Rings and Temp-Tee cream cheese. The night before the holiday, my sister and I would creep through the darkened house with a candle and a feather, searching for the packets of bread Ma had hidden. The next morning Ma would shoo us outside to munch on donuts while sacrificial chametz burned in a delightfully pagan-esque bonfire.

We'd have the Seders at my uncle's house. My uncle is an Orthodox rabbi and he does not screw around at Seder time. They were 5 hour events, but never dull. Everyone told stories and asked questions. He flung ping-pong balls and toy farm animals to simulate the plagues. We'd all pick a random language in which to ask the Four Questions, and idly flip through the Haggadah to count how many pages of Hebrew and Aramaic lay between us and the charoset. My grandmother and aunt would then serve Jewish Foods of Great Density and Unfailing Deliciousness. The kids would be wiped out after dinner and we'd get poked awake for the Afikomen and chime in halfheartedly to endless choruses of Chad Gadya. I miss those Seders.

But then I grew up. To be an atheist. Well, maybe not an atheist exactly, but any higher power I'm even willing to consider is nothing like the Judeo-Christian god of smitings and complicated laws about childless widows and the sandals of their brothers in law. With two small children of my own and zero theological motivation, Passover is a colossal pain in my ass. But it's important to my husband, so I break out the Passover dishes and buy evil-looking foodstuffs like borscht and jarred gefilte fish. The peanut butter and rice and and cornstarch get tucked away. I make matza lasagna and matza meal muffins and contemplate donating my kidneys so that we can afford boxes of delicious shmura matza at whatever princely sum they're going for down at the shmura matza factory which is probably made out of solid platinum and features an underground garage so no one's Bugatti gets dinged.

Anyhow, I have mixed feelings on Passover as a whole. It's kind of exciting for the kids and while I am not theologically Jewish, I'm definitely a cultural Jew. But I get so frustrated when I go to the kosher grocery store where I went all the time as a kid. I see people in there buying the same kosher for Passover paper plates and napkins and lotions and soap as I did growing up. And they're also buying kosher for Passover bagels and breads and pizza crusts. And to tell you the truth, I think that's pretty hypocritical. This avoidance of chametz is so important to you and your god that you're agonizing over wheat germ extract in the shampoo, but you can't possibly survive for a week without a bagel? It rubs me the wrong way. If I had to say who was doing a better job at obeying the spirit of the thing, I say the victory goes to my atheist matza pizza served on godless cornstarched plates.

Note: To clarify, I do not mean to generalize that everyone at the aforementioned store buys these things. But because it is the only store in the area (to my knowledge) that sells them, I notice people buying them I'm there. So my objections are limited to that cohort.

But this year my mother will be out of town and my father is not having a Seder of his own. My husband will be taking the kids to my in-laws' (where I do not venture) for the Seders and I plan to stay home and have uninterrupted thoughts and watch The X-Files with the volume turned up. I think it will be a very religious experience for me.


  1. Oy. The relationship with the religion we grow up with (kindly indulge my terrible grammar) is so complicated sometimes. I was trying to explain to a friend of mine yesterday about the particular dietary recommendations of my faith, and why and how I choose how strictly to apply them, and...I didn't even make sense to myself. So my friend didn't have a prayer!

    So to speak.

    Anyway, good luck to you. It's no one's call but yours. And have a lovely weekend!

  2. Lol @ " my in-laws' (where I do not venture"

  3. Enjoy the X-Files! By the way, there are people who shop at that store who don't buy the pizza bagels, etc. for Pesach, as they figure that is not really what the holiday is about, and they are really expensive. I live on matza and jelly and matza meal pancakes for all of Pesach, and I love it!

  4. The Wizzle: Religions is very complicated, especially in trying to disentangle theology and culture. I wonder if I'm totally screwing my kids up or what.

    Erin: You don't even know...

    Libby: Added a note to be more clear. Thanks for mentioning it!

  5. saw the note. :-)
    giant also sells the pizza and other things that i see no reason to buy at Pesach. i am sure shoppers does as well, but i have not checked.

  6. I am shocked that you would use cornstarched plates! CORN IS EVIL!

    I am however very envious of all those festivities even if I can see how some aspects of them can become trying years after years. But I'm always going to have a positive bias towards something that generates copious amount of delicious food.