Passover. The word itself makes me shudder. If this holiday is about celebrating the redemption of the Jewish people and the renewal of a nation, why, year after year, do I feel shackled by its very presence?
My earliest memory of Passover goes something like this: There I sat, age four, happily playing with my Polly Pocket when my mother tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a toothbrush, and ordered me to scrub the tires of our station wagon.
Years later, when I asked my mother why she burdened me with that seemingly pointless task, she explained that I needed to understand the “spirit” of the holiday. In other words, I couldn’t just sit around playing with my toys while the rest of the family slaved away.
Ironic as it is, the word “slaving” best describes my family’s Passover prep: The Jews were saved, and in celebration, we turn ourselves into slaves during the Jewish month of Nissan. Before you call me a heretic for having such cynical feelings, allow me to share a typical Passover prep schedule from my childhood.
We’d wake up at 5:30 AM and, starting at 6:00 AM, we’d haul everything from the “Passover collection” in our garage up to our kitchen. This included meat pots, meat pans, milk pots, milk pans, meat dishes, dairy dishes, meat cutlery, dairy cutlery, glasses, mugs, platters, serving bowls, towels, microwave, Seder plates — I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but you get the point.
After taking everything we used year round — our “chometz collection” — down to the garage, we’d get down on our hands and knees to scrub and vacuum the house. Somewhere around 2:00 PM, we’d start to “kosher” our kitchen, which meant pouring boiling water all over the counters, sinks and stoves.
At 4:00 PM, we’d hit the grocery store, violently running through the aisles to complete our few-thousand-dollar shopping spree, stocking our house with Kosher-for-Passover products — some of which looked exactly like our year-round products, except for a giant P on the package and the higher price.
We’d head home around 7:00 PM and unload the mammoth delivery of food, stop for a quick pizza break, and then proceed to peel, stir, sauté and cook for hours until our knees buckled from standing for so long.
Bedtime was somewhere around 3:00 AM, and it didn’t bring comfort. We knew there’d be more cooking the next day, and that in eight days’ time, we’d have to turn over that very kitchen once again.
These memories of slaving are what come to mind whenever I think of Passover. But is this the only approach to the holiday? Surely cleaning isn’t the only aspect of Passover. This year, I decided to find five new ways to approach the holiday so that, instead of loathing it, I can enjoy the process more and appreciate the festival.
Passover is also about family time
Aside from the cooking, cleaning and preparing, this is one of the few times all year that my immediate family sits down together at the same table. If I allowed it, it could easily be the most cherished time of the year, because I know that while friends get busy and jobs come and go, family will always be there.
Passover is about getting rid of spiritual “chametz”
The month of Nissan is the first of the Jewish month cycles, and so Passover can be about cleaning internally, not just physically. Once I get rid of the excess objects in my life and give up my favorite foods for a few days, I would like to evaluate myself and make resolutions to be better this year.
Passover is about kindness
Just because I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by a large family doesn’t mean everyone is. Passover is about reaching out to those in need, and it is for this reason that we recite an open invitation to those in need during “Ha Lachma Anya,” and give charity through “Maos Chittim.” This year, I will reach out to those who I know don’t have strong family support and invite them to my Seder.
Passover is about unity of the Jewish people
On this holiday, all over the world, Jews are gathering for the same sit-down meal, reciting the same text together. I want to take a moment to appreciate belonging to such a special religion. While all the different sects can’t seem to agree on anything during the year, we stand united on Passover, celebrating our redemption and praying that, one day, we will be united forever.
Passover is about celebrating Jewish women
The Jewish women had a huge role in the Jewish redemption of Exodus. They used mirrors to seduce their husbands into having children with them, even when their offspring faced an ill fate of the Nile, and from their efforts, Moshe was born. His mother and sister, Yocheved and Miriam, defied Pharaoh’s instructions as midwives, saving Jewish infants. And Miriam stood guard until Moshe arrived safely in the arms of Pharaoh’s daughter. This year I will fill an additional cup next to Elijah’s at my Seder, filling it with water to honor Miriam, the Jewish women of the Exodus story, and every Jewish woman today who continues to be a major player in the success story of the Jewish nation.