My husband was raised as a secular Jew, and I have spent the better part of a decade as a Jew by choice. Being new to the tribe, it can be hard to learn and grow in Judaism. Without strong community support or close family and friends who can mentor you, even little things like Shabbat prayers can be intimidating. Perhaps the most intimidating of all is Passover observance.
One common way to side-step the complicated intricacies of the holiday is to not observe at all, but adding even small observances each year–if sustained–can become beautiful traditions for your family. What I like best about this approach is that by doing it in bits and pieces, it feels less intimidating. For example, we started by simply attending a seder. We were lucky to have had a gracious (yet slightly intimidating?) invitation from our rabbi. The following year my husband and I abstained from eating chametz, the next year we rid our home of chametz by cleaning the kitchen and pantry thoroughly and “selling” it online the morning before Passover.
Now it is commonplace for us to clean our house, box up the chametz, and prepare foods for seder. I’ve cooked two full seders, and while it was intimidating (and still is) my kids absolutely loved it. We fumbled along through the family hagaddah with sticky frogs and tiny wine cups. We have three small children so our seder, like our family, is short, sweet, and G-rated. As our children grown in age and observance we look forward to adding discussion, real wine, and fancy cloth napkins.
Here are some simple ways to be more Passover observant.
1. Keep it fun
No matter how you choose to observe, do not let it overwhelm you. This will make you less likely to stick with it year after year. You want to succeed in your little steps so that you can be proud and confident in adding more the following year. For example, I wouldn’t recommend cooking a seder with all new-to-you recipes. I keep a binder with Jewish holiday tabs. Each year I add one or two new recipes that were successful. When I meal plan, I have a list of things I know I can cook and cook well, and then I take a risk on one or two new dishes.
2. Listen to Passover music
We play the ShirLaLa Pesach CD in the mornings while we’re eating breakfast the week leading up to, and the week of, Passover. My kids love to dance and sing along to familiar songs. You could also consider a Passover playlist in programs like Spotify.
3. Plan all of your meals, including snacks
This is probably the most important way, especially as a busy mom, to keep your family chametz/kitniyot free. Almost all of our easy fall-back meals involve chametz. If I don’t plan ahead, we are in a bind. I also pack my husband’s lunch the week of Passover. It makes him feel loved as it something I don’t usually do, and it keeps him observant when he’d probably rather be eating Easter candy at the nurses’ station.
4. Cook simple meals
You don’t have to cook gourmet kosher for Passover meals to be observant. Brainstorm some of your favorites. My kids love chicken tenders. They turn out great homemade and breaded in matzah meal. If you have a favorite chicken and rice dish, sub quinoa for the rice.
5. Ask for family input
This is a fun way to help your kids understand what chametz and kitniyot are. Let them brainstorm some foods they’d like to eat for the week. Tell them why those foods are or are not appropriate for Passover. Make a grocery list together and let them put the groceries in the cart. You can also let your children be involved in the preparation of the meals. It’s a great way for them to feel pride and ownership over what is being served. They may not eat all of it, but they will most likely try a bite and probably won’t complain about what you are serving.
6. Focus on what you CAN eat and not what is forbidden.
My kids LOVE Passover cereal. It’s like a bazillion dollars for one box with a tiny bag of cardboard-tasting cereal inside, but to them it’s a special tradition for Passover breakfast. We rarely eat chips–so chips are always on the menu during Passover. Instead of moping around saying, “We can’t eat _____,” keep an ongoing dialogue of excitement: “It’s Passover so that means we get to eat ________!”
7. Always have dessert.
We normally have dessert about once a week. During Passover we have dessert every night and everyone is eligible for a treat regardless of what was eaten. We’ve even been known to serve lunch-dessert (KP marshmallows anyone?) during Passover.
8. Decide where you draw the line.
You could drive yourself absolutely bonkers trying to scour the ingredients of all of your food products for soy and corn–especially if you don’t have access to a kosher market. Obviously if chametz, soy, or corn is the first ingredient, we don’t eat it. But if there are kettle chips and the 20th ingredient says it “may” contain either peanut or soybean oil–we’d probably eat them. Where you draw the line is for your own family to decide.
9. Find a family tradition to break Passover.
Once Passover is over, we always go out for burgers and milkshakes. Many of our friends go out for pizza or donuts. We don’t usually eat out the week of Passover so it’s a nice break from cooking and it gives us something to look forward to as a family.
Adding to our Passover observance has truly connected us more deeply with Judaism. My children have a foundation that, no matter how novice it feels to my husband and me, is what their Jewish identity is being built on. Start small and over the years you’ll have built a Jewish home full of Jewish memories.
For those interested, here’s a sample meal plan:
Sunny O’s, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, toasted matzah with sunbutter, fresh fruit, banana muffins
Matzo ball soup, mashed potatoes, chicken tenders, egg salad, tuna salad
Meatballs, Garlic Mushroom Quinoa, Cauliflower Pizza, Grilled shrimp and vegetable kabobs with baked potatoes, Broccoli parmesan fritters (sub matzo meal), Chicken Marbella, Ima burgers (sub matzo meal)
Diced veggies (precut bag in fridge), dried fruit, yogurt, turkey pepperoni, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, Terra chips, matzo granola