The Jewish Passover holiday is full of symbolism. The matzah reminds us the Israelites hastily fled their bondage in Egypt, not even waiting for their bread dough to rise. The salt water in which we dip our greens at the Seder recalls the tears our ancestors shed when the Egyptians took them as slaves and forced them into hard labor.
And the compote. Heaven forbid we forget the compote. The compote reminds us that as Jews, we suffer horrific constipation for eight days and nights. Our stomachs bloat from matzah in all its various forms. As a child I loved flipping through Passover cookbooks with my mom, trying to choose what to make for dinner. Like a scene from Forrest Gump, we’d decide between matzah kugel, matzah pizza, matzah quiche, matzah brei, matzah lasagna….. The antidote? My mother would simmer a mix of prunes, dried apricots, raisins, lemon rinds and sugar to fend off inevitable stomach issues.
The dietary restrictions of Passover seem to have fed an underlying fear that we might miss forbidden foods too much – in a week and a day – so the Passover pantry of 2019 is filled with highly processed replacement items. There are thousands on the market. People who normally consume a piece of fruit and toast for breakfast stock their pantries with the cereal “Crispy-O’s” – which are neither crispy, nor O shaped. In fact, once liquid of any form – milk, water, saliva – touches said “O,” the “cereal” instantly turns into a mix between cement and rubber glue, rendering chewing and swallowing an extreme challenge. Perhaps Crispy-O’s should be added to the Passover seder plate as a modern day symbol of oppression.
The restrictions of the holiday result in a mass hysteria of sorts. A deep, underlying fear that, heaven forbid, Uncle Howard be… *hungry* for seven minutes in between meals!! Quick – break out the 10 gallon tub of mayo-soaked tuna!
My mother recalls a better time. The first sign of Passover used to be spring asparagus arriving at local stores. Now, we eagerly await the first 12-pack box of matzah at Costco.
My fear is that we have lost the spirit of the holiday. In our quest to fill our refrigerators with enough food to feed the inhabitants of London for a month, we have outsourced its observance. A kosher-for-Passover symbol on a package of spicy seaweed snacks means that all the technical boxes are checked. Yes, we are compliant in our noshing. But at what cost?
During Passover, the foods we eat, and more importantly, the foods we go without, have meaning. At this time of year, I also try to double down on my company’s waste reduction efforts, re-engage with our farm network and simply remind myself and my staff about our values of tikkun olam – translated from the Hebrew as “making the world a better place.”
In the holiday’s truest form of observance, we should forgo abundance and embrace restraint. Adhering to the dietary restrictions helps us appreciate the plethora of options we normally have. Those culinary choices are endless and choice, in and of itself, is one of the greatest gifts.
When I became vegan several years ago, I re-embraced the true spirit of Passover as well. For me, it is a true celebration of spring. I crave the simplicity. My meals are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, nuts and quinoa. And, let’s be honest, lots and lots of soup.
I look at Passover as a gift, too. It is a time for ultimate spring cleaning — for the home, body, mind and soul. The holiday’s laws direct us to question and reflect, to examine our history and traditions, to re-tell its stories, to change our routines, to spend time with family. And they demand that we celebrate our freedoms and renew our commitment to tikkun olam.
Is the world a better place with kosher-for-Passover pancakes and cheese pretzels? I’m not so sure.