Growing up, my family celebrated Passover much differently than I’d come to as an adult. In my house, the cereal boxes were simply pushed to the back of the cabinet and the matzah boxes were placed in front. We didn’t drive ourselves crazy (and empty our wallets) buying only food with a Passover hecksher (stamp of approval). We just didn’t eat bread products.
My partner grew up in a more traditionally observant family, whose stringent adherence to the rules had turned him sour on the whole experience. Our Jewish home together was going to be different from both our childhood homes, we decided; a little more traditional than mine, a little less traditional than my partner’s, and above all, firmly committed to positive Jewish experiences.
Raising a family in this Jewish style was one of the things that most excited us about having children. And now, here we were, a four month old baby in tow, major holiday upon us. Teach it to your children, the Torah says. This is our time, our chance.
But teach what? And when?
For our first few years together we had been coming down on the side of obligation, following the laws of Passover as best as we could, even if we kvetched about it the whole time. We worked hard to clean out all the crumbs and cover the countertops. And as vegetarians, the food situation was the biggest challenge. Our main sources of protein—beans and soy products—were scratched off the list, leaving us without any significant source of fuel. Normally healthy eaters, during Passover we grazed on potato chips and chocolate bars to make up for the caloric deficits from our meals.
This year, perhaps, it is time to lean the other way, to relax in our observance so that we might actually have the time and energy to enjoy the holiday with our new child.
Because if we followed everything this year—if we pushed ourselves to the limit and stayed up too late cleaning and spent too much shopping and ate too little—we’d be doing it only to make a point, to prove that even as sleep-deprived, time-crunched, parents—we could. But self-righteous observance was not the type of observance I wanted to model for our son.
So there won’t be any tin foil on the counters in the background of this year’s Passover photographs. We’ll put away our wheat bran cereal, but we’ll replace it with oatmeal, not Crispy Os. And while a tub of Temptee cream cheese will surely make its way into our kitchen, it will be because it tastes good, not because of its kosher-for-Passover status, and we’ll spread it on matzah as a snack, not as our dinner.
That will be this year’s photo. By the time of next year’s photo, when a toddler will be walking in the frame, our Passover routine will likely shift again. The haggadah itself teaches us to anticipate the future in this way; ha’shata ha’kha. This year we are here. Next year, we may be somewhere different.