As Passover approaches I find myself getting cranky, as I do every year before this particular holiday. My grumbling, which begins around the time Passover food makes an appearance at the grocery store, becomes more incessant with each day leading up to the first seder. I imagine that even the slaves in Egypt did not complain as much as I do. I am not proud of my behavior, and every year I vow to do better; however, like many resolutions, my good intentions fall as flat as matzah.
I live in a town that has many Jewish people, but few observe the holidays in a traditional manner. My family belongs to a conservative temple, we keep a kosher home, and although we celebrate Shabbat, we are not Sabbath observant. I generally consider myself a middle of the road Jew, but somehow, in our more secular town, we are considered “religious.” Having grown up in Brooklyn and attended Orthodox temples, I know that we really aren’t particularly pious, but I accept that people seem to perceive us as such.
While I begin the rituals of purchasing, organizing, changing dishes, cooking, and cleaning for Passover, many of the people I know talk about spending the holiday on a beach somewhere, and bringing a haggadah along to read while sipping tropical drinks. I don’t mean to sound as bitter as the herbs on a seder plate, but I find the preparations onerous, although I have to admit that I do enjoy the seders. My husband LOVES Passover (yes, he’s one of those people) and actually compiled his own haggadah, which we have used the past few years. He also emcees a Passover game show every year for our guests, complete with questions about the holiday and prizes. It’s a lot of fun and we celebrate with friends who enjoy participating and singing along with spirit and enthusiasm. It’s really the month before Passover and the work leading up to the Seders that I find objectionable.
Every year before the holiday, the Chabad Rabbi in town stops by to bring us a box of schmurah (handmade) matzah, and to wish us a good Passover. He seems to get particularly animated and happy when he sees my dining room being used as a staging area with Passover food and dishes filling the table and floor. Last year, he actually took pictures (I’m not kidding about this) of the soda bottles I had purchased with their kosher label for Passover caps. He wanted to show his wife that there was someone else in town who was following the traditions. I am sure there are a few others in our area who observe as we do, but not too many. I have often said that during the weeks before, and during this holiday, my house probably resembles Poland at the turn of the century, making me feel like an anachronism.
In truth, although I like keeping a kosher home, I am sure I wouldn’t go to the lengths I do for Passover if it weren’t for my husband. As with most good marriages, we both know when we need to compromise. And I have to say that over the almost 29 years we have been married, even my diehard husband has mellowed about the rules a bit; I think he too is getting a little weary of the work involved.
Sometimes, when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed before the holiday, I try to remember how much the traditions mean to my kids. Just today, my youngest son was singing a Passover song in the car. Perhaps if we lived in a town where more people celebrated as we do, I might feel more enthusiastic about Passover. Years ago, when my children had school on the holiday, I accompanied my middle son’s class on a trip to the Bronx Zoo. When all the other kids bought pretzels from a vendor, I took out my Passover treats for my less than happy son. But as the years went on, my boys became proud of their observance and often told me they shared their matzah with classmates. In fact, I learned to send extra matzah and snacks to school with my kids, so they would have enough to give to their friends. As with many things related to Judaism, I sometimes wondered why I didn’t take an easier path. The answer took decades to arrive, but I am gratified that my sons, two of whom no longer live at home most of the year, are committed to continuing the traditions in their own lives and homes.
And so, this Passover season when I start to grumble, I will try to remember the joy my husband feels, the memories we continue to create for our children, the heritage we are helping sustain, and the freedom we are so lucky to have. I am grateful for all those things and while I may never love this holiday, dayenu (it is enough).