So I’m just going to come right out and say it: We don’t keep kosher for Passover. I feel a bit like a party-pooping high school senior who chooses not to go to the prom revealing that. After all, we moved to Israel to bring our kids up Jewish and live close to our Israeli family. But we are secular Jews and the simple truth is that we pick and choose how we observe in line with our beliefs about what’s important for us–and what’s not.
These past weeks I’ve been reading on Kveller about how Mayim Bialik is making her Passover meaningful, how Amanda Bradley secretly loves Passover, and Tamara’s Reese’s wonderful ideas to make observance less intimidating. I applaud and respect all those suggestions, opinions, and choices–I know that people who observe the holidays from a strong sense of spirituality and tradition get a tremendous amount of nourishment from them. That’s something to envy.
Seventy percent of Israelis will be joining those ladies in banishing the hametz from their homes and digestive systems for the week, but while they have been cleaning, shopping, and dusting off their Passover recipe books, puzzling out how to get through this week without bread, pasta, and rice, I’ve been chilling out and stocking up on the banned goodies before they perform their annual week-long disappearing act.
Although we choose not to rid our house of hametz or refrain from eating it, it doesn’t mean that we don’t honor or celebrate the holiday; we do. For the last six years I’ve been taking turns hosting the seder–and yes, that part we do without the presence of hametz at the table. We read the Passover haggadah, we dip our fingers in wine as we recite the plagues, we recline; but mostly, we wait for the bit where we can eat the food, sing the songs, and let the kids hunt for the afikomen.
In hol ha’moed, the week after the seder, Israeli supermarkets hide their wheat-y wares on burka-dressed shelves, forbidden to purchasers one and all. Most restaurants keep kosher and the whole country is shrouded in a barbecue fog as Israelis cook up their choice of the tastiest alternative to wheat–meat! We tend to eat at home during this period, delving into our pile of forbidden hametz like thieves. If we feel a little like “outsiders” in the swimming sea of observance, it’s OK.
It’s true in a way that we are choosing all the fun, warm, and fuzzy bits of the holiday whilst ignoring the restrictive, roll your sleeves up, challenging parts. As secular Jews, the rules and dogmas of religion don’t play a big role in our lives. I don’t think it makes us any less Jewish–it just makes us less observant. We are still book-loving, family-hugging, charity-giving, kugel-eating Zionists, struggling to make it work in our homeland and to find a way that’s meaningful to us.
Even without observing the week-long prohibition of hametz, my kids still learn about the history of their people at school and from the seder, and they are still laying down traditions to be carried over to their children. They inhale the spirit of the holiday, even if practically we don’t do everything that Exodus commands us to do.
So happy and kosher Passover to those of you who do–and just happy Passover to those of you who don’t. May we always be free to determine our own way.