Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. A meal and story followed by an entire week of daily (albeit minimal) sacrifices made in mindful celebration of our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt. Admittedly I can’t pass up an opportunity to smear horseradish on things and the beet juice variety literally makes me swoon. I’m excited to pull out the little book collection for our boys and tuck matzah into the afikomen bag I sewed myself. For eight days, the usual chore of dinner gives way to a food challenge where none of the usual players are allowed. And the last day I always get a text from my husband that says, “can we eat real food tonight?” and we head out for burgers after sundown. The kitchen is cleaned out and we start fresh when the week is over.
I am a Jew by choice married to a humbly secular tribe member. We light candles every Friday, pay temple dues and with each passing year grow more in our observance. Do we throw away every bit of chametz? No. We can’t afford to. What we didn’t consume prior to the holiday, we box up in plastic tubs and lock it away in our storage unit. Does that make us less Jewish? I hope not. To gentiles we seem like uber-Jews while Orthodox families may scoff at our attempts at Halacha.
This year we will be holding our very first seder. The week nights are busy and my husband really wants to attend a seder without feeling like he can’t get there on time because of work. I agreed it would be nice to celebrate as a family, but as soon we made the decision to host our own seder, negative feelings began to overwhelm me.
“it’s so much work…”
“I have no idea where our seder plate is…”
“What if I can’t get everything cooked, arranged in the right order and on the table in a timely manner…”
All of my happy Passover feelings were being squelched by anxiety. The weird thing is I’m a capable cook, fairly organized and thrive on making things fun for my kids. I love tradition and am proud to be raising Jewish children in a Jewish home. And as I thought long and hard about what was bothering me, I found exactly what was fueling my Passover dissonance.
“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt
The first seder I attended was at our Rabbi’s house , deliciously kosher and recited from memory entirely in Hebrew. This of course set a ridiculously high standard but even so I’ve been to some beautifully done seders with many aspects that I’d like to replicate but don’t have the means or the know how to pull it all off on my first attempt.
I get the sense that the insecurities I hold say more about me being Jewish than being a convert. Jews who grew up practicing have an even longer list of impressive meals and halachic standards they’re trying to replicate, emulate or stray away from entirely. We all have some nagging self-doubt in the back of our minds that weighs us down during the holidays. Perhaps you had the food beautifully catered but felt guilty for not making it yourself. Maybe your brisket didn’t come out as well as your mother’s recipe. You didn’t have the time or desire to clean the stove with a Q-tip. You forgot and accidentally ate a Wheat Thin at work. The grocer was out of parsley. No amount of bouncy frogs will keep your child seated at a table for two hours. You can’t find the family Haggadah you’ve used for generations and have to wing-it with a single copy of Sammy the Spider.
Imagine how freeing it would be if we embraced the holiday exactly as it is this year. Whatever you have planned, it’s good enough. However you’ve chosen to observe, it’s a mitzvah. If you’ve never celebrated in your own home before and are holding a 30-minute Seder, be proud. You passed up the “Kosher for Passover” chips but found some kettle chips with some random corn product as the last ingredient, you are living Jewishly. And that one thing this Passover that is pushing you over sanity’s threshold – the napkin rings you’ve decided to crochet for twenty people by Monday – they don’t matter. The chaos, personalities, likes, dislikes, levels of observance sitting around your table are exactly as they should be.
Don’t drive to six grocery stores looking for parsley, instead let it go and be present. Allow your mind to take in the multisensory order of the seder. Taste the salt water, cleanse your hands, sing all 15 stanzas of Dayenu off key with spirit or don’t sing at all. Either way, wake up happy to spread butter over matzah and know that you are connected to generations of Jewish people who have done the same.
I don’t have fancy china or enough kiddish cups for everyone to have one, but even if I draw circles on a paper plate and serve wine in plastic ikea glasses, I’m observing Passover with commitment, love and joy in my heart. I’ll host a Seder for the four of us that may or may not be as observant, organized or fancy as the one my neighbors host, but I’m okay with that because this holiday and my connection to the Jewish people is uniquely my journey.
I recently read that not eating chametz during Pesach is also a symbolic way of removing the arrogance from our souls. I can fully appreciate this sentiment and in a modern day where our insecurities are masked by overcompensation, we can all use a little deflating. The eight days of Pesach that I celebrate may not look the same as yours, but let’s not let comparisons rob us of the joy this holiday brings. Let’s wish every Jew, no matter how they celebrate, Chag Pesach Sameach!