I’m not in the mood for Passover this year, especially because my health has been getting worse and Passover is one of the most preparation heavy holidays on the Jewish calendar, not just because you have to change your entire diet for a week (Matza instead of leavened bread, or anything with leavening in it, or anything with beans or corn or rice in it, if you are of Ashkenazi descent and Orthodox), but you also have to clean the whole house to make sure there’s no leavened bread hidden behind the sofa or between the cushions (Cricket likes to bury her treats for later), and then you have to find a Seder to go to and/or cook for a Seder.
For most of my adult life I’ve been Passover-averse, in large part because my father made a mess of it. As a little kid, I loved Passover, especially going to Seders at my grandfather’s house (Mom’s father). But as my father became more religious he decided that everything my brother and I had been taught about Judaism was wrong. His new rules were demeaning and punitive and took the joy out of all the holidays, but especially Passover, which, if the rules are followed rigidly, can be something of a nightmare. As an adult, it took me a long time to even be able to walk into a synagogue, let alone go to services again. And even after we joined our current synagogue, eleven years ago, and I started to go to services every week, I still mostly pretended that Passover was just another week of the year. But as a synagogue school teacher, I can’t ignore it, because I have to teach it.
Part of me wishes I had the time to teach my students about Passover the way I learned it as a kid at my Jewish Day School. In first grade, we learned Echad Mi Yodea (Who Knows One?) in Yiddish, and each year we had a model Seder and learned tons of songs and prayers and stories and traditions. And then classes ended a few days before Passover so we could be home to help with the special food shopping, and changing over the dishes, and searching for chametz (leavened bread, like bread crumbs or cereal) with a kit we got from school, made of a small white paper bag, a feather, a wooden spoon, and a candle. The search for chametz is a kid-friendly ritual done in the dark on the night before the first Seder, where the adults hide little piles of chametz for the kids to find (with a candle to see by, and a feather and spoon for collecting the chametz into the paper bag, and then the whole kit is burned), all to symbolize the official transition from a house full of chametz to a house that is kosher for Passover.
I’d love to share these rituals with my students, but I can’t figure out how to do it in our small classroom and the few minutes we have available between all of the other things they need to learn. I’m hoping that some of the girls in my class will come to the Women’s Seder at the synagogue, which is kind of like a grown-up Model Seder, with all of the handwashing and singing and blessings and rituals you could ask for. It’s scheduled ahead of Passover on the assumption that the actual family Seders will require women to do the cooking and cleaning and serving and therefore not really get the chance to focus on the meaning of the holiday itself. And because it’s a Seder for women, the pronouns in the blessings will be changed (because in the traditional blessings the pronouns are all male), and we will consider the female characters in the story who have generally been left out, and we’ll eat food prepared by someone else and sing songs written by women.
If I had the energy, and the time, and the money, I would love to have a Model Seder with my students, where we could try dishes from Jewish communities around the world: like Moroccan Dafina stew, and Italian fried artichokes, and Turkish leek meatballs, and especially Ethiopian Matzah made with chickpea flour. And then we could try out different kinds of rituals, like the way the Ethiopians break their dishes before Passover (to avoid any chance of having chametz in their food over Passover), and some Sephardi Jews hit each other with scallions to simulate the way the slaves were beaten (well, maybe not that one), or the tradition where the Seder participants carry a heavy bag around the table to remind them of the burdens of slavery. And then, of course, the kids would obsess together over what they should ask for from their parents as rewards for finding the hidden piece of Matza (the Afikomen) at their own Seders.
That’s what I’d like to do, but I don’t have the classroom time to do it. And, more importantly, I really don’t have the energy. When I’m not in school with my students lately, I’m generally home in my pajamas, resting, or at least trying to. To be honest, I’ve spent most of my time recently binging past seasons of the Great British Baking Show on Netflix (because I finally have access to all of the seasons I missed after they moved from PBS to Netflix in the States).
If I get a magical spurt of energy before Passover, I might do some vacuuming and search through the couch cushions for Cricket’s hidden crumbs, but once synagogue school goes on vacation, it’s likely that I will spend most of the holiday just resting, and hoping that that will be enough to give me the strength to finish out the synagogue school year with my kids.
And, really, if I can do that, I’ll be happy.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?