Last year at Passover, my non-Jewish wife was puzzled: “Why do you guys make such a big deal if you’re not going to take it seriously?”
Did she mean our humanist Haggadah that has no mention of a deity? Was it the fact that we giggle through all the songs, and rush poor Moses along his Exodus so we can eat? Or maybe it was the door? Sorry, but it was too damn cold to leave open, and no one wanted to hear my dad complain about the thermostat.
But really, I’m not sure it’s our execution of Passover that throws off my wife and non-Jewish friends. It’s the overall concept of, “Wait, you’re Jewish, but you don’t believe, and you don’t keep Kosher on Passover?”
Correct. I am Jewish. I don’t believe in the Biblical God. I don’t keep Kosher on Passover, and I don’t fast on Yom Kippur. But can I still be Jewish? Absolutely.
My Judaism isn’t in the technicalities and the rituals; it’s not in the rules, and it’s certainly not in the type of foods I do or do not eat. My Judaism is a feeling, a sense of belonging and identity. It’s about my love for our homeland, my commitment to make sure my son knows who his great-grandparents were, and my passion for our extraordinary history.
In fact, my favorite Passover story isn’t the one about the parting of the sea, but rather the one about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; how on Passover eve, 1943, Jews took up arms against the Nazis. How they held out longer than anyone ever expected, and even flew the Star of David, which could be seen outside the ghetto walls (typing this gives me chills). If this isn’t a modern story of Passover, of our Exodus, then I don’t know what is. Our traditionally irreverent
I don’t think not keeping Kosher for Passover makes me any less Jewish. What would make me less of a Jew is if I failed to act like a mensch in my every day life, if I didn’t put Tikkun Olam into action, and if I didn’t stand up and say, “Hell yes, Black lives matter.”
Not following rules doesn’t translate to a disrespect for tradition. In fact, for my family, Passover is still all about tradition. It’s about coming together on that night to tell that story; to pay tribute to our brothers and sisters that night in the ghetto, whose hands shook as they poured the wine and passed the matzah. It’s about reminding ourselves—on that night—of our non-Jewish brothers and sisters, who still live under oppression. And it’s about closing our eyes, for even just one second, to think of the children massacred in Syria the other day; the ones who could have used their own Exodus, and were failed by the world.
So while we don’t keep Kosher or go to temple, our Passover is still a traditional Passover. Amidst the giggles, the talk of social justice, and the sound of my dad pretending to snore, our Seder is “different than any other night;” and for us, this is what it means to be Jewish.