Passover and Stay Awhile

What a difference a Hebrew year makes. Last year, I blogged about the anxiety that planning for and observing my first Passover holiday triggered in me. Would I get everything right leading my first seder? (I did.) Would I be able to make it through eight days without eating chametz? (I didn’t.) My last-day-of-Pesach meltdown last year taught me a lot about the meaning of the holiday. If it was supposed to be easy, we wouldn’t observe it. If the Israelites had been able to pop over to a bakery before the Exodus, they would have. I’m sure they didn’t like unleavened bread any more than we do today.

But I sure didn’t expect to look forward to Passover as much as I did this year. Given my Iberian bloodline, adopting Sephardic minhagim (practices) means neither Ryan nor I avoid kitnyot (foods like peas, beans, and rice that remind many Ashkenazic Jews of the five unpermitted grains of passover)–so even without wheat, oats, rye, barley, and spelt in our diet, we don’t have it as bad as many of our Jewish friends when it comes to Pesach. Trouble is, though I’m an experienced home cook, last year I didn’t plan.

This year, our koshered Julia Child’s beef bourguignon, kishke, gourmet gefilte fish, feather-light matzoh ball soup, sweet-potato-pineapple tzimmes, flourless chocolate cake, and highly good-wined second-night feast is being followed by a better-planned series of rice and meat dishes throughout the week. Admittedly, we did inhale a terrific matzagna (exactly what it sounds like), I may have spend much of last night making homemade crispy caramel filled, chocolate-ganache covered, toasted-almond topped egg matzah, and there will be savory matzoh brie eaten before the eight days are over. But unlike last year, we like actually being able to go to the bathroom more than once a week to make every single meal matzoh based.

I let go of my Haggadah constipation, too. Last year, even using the maligned but convenient 30 Minute Seder, I wrote and used Haggadah notes that stretched out for a mile. This year, I reigned myself in and let our second-night seder–my first led as a fully official Jew–take whatever directions the spirit of the evening warranted. Ryan, synagogue friend Rachel Y’all Quit, Mr. & Mrs. Welles Park Bulldog, work friend Beth Peanuts, and I rocked 30 Minute Seder out to five happy hours, feeling many aspects of our connection to the Exodus story–and to each other–along the way. (Add half an hour of waiting time to that total–I cooked for 6 p.m., forgetting I told everyone to arrive at 6:30!)

The previous night, Ryan, Rachel, her hubby Brian Beanstalk, and I enjoyed a far more traditional first-night seder at the home of my surrogate Jewish family in West Rogers Park. I’m learning I prefer a more modern-language Haggadah to use, but I do enjoy reading older, more traditional Haggadot–and they definitely make me think about the experiences of my Jewish friends and elders in decades past. The past four of which if things had been different, I might have spent attending seders and using those same, traditional Haggadot.

As Chol Hamoed–the weekdays of the festival–pass by, home-brought care packets of pesadic snack food is keeping me away from the bakery beneath my office building. (And, really, it wouldn’t need to be Pesach for Joyva ring jells and nut crunches–which even as a gentile child I grew up eating in New York City–to turn my head from chametz-based yummies.) That’s a far cry from last April’s scraping the cheese off the forbidden office pizza.

All in all, a year later and instead of the angst, I’m relaxing into Passover and feeling a lot more connected to the festival’s traditions. Not to mention to a hundred generations of Jews who came before me, and to four thousand years of history. I flashed on those generations in a humbling, inner gasp at festival services on Saturday morning when the cantor read from the Torah the commandment relating to Chag Hamatzot (the festival of the matzah.) I already felt commanded. But in that moment on Saturday morning, I felt at one with my leaven-challenged Israelite forebears. I felt among them.

On Saturday night, I learned that I wanted to remain among them for a lot longer than 30 minutes, too.

Chag Sameach!

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