Praise Moses and Pass the Matzah: A Passover Primer
By Amy Sue Nathan
The Easter Bunny and his entourage are back at the mall, and that means one thing to me.
Passover is coming.
Passover, the eight day celebration of the Israelites' exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, is my favorite Jewish holiday, although I'm not sure why. It entails cleaning and more cleaning and then cleaning some more, and that is my least favorite thing to do. It also involves macaroons, so perhaps that explains it.
In Hebrew, Passover is Pesach -- PAY-SACH. The end of the word is that Jewish guttural throat roll that sounds like you are about to hock a loogey. It does not sound like the "k" in Saks or the "ch" in, chosen, as in -- people. But I digress.
The first order of business in my household when I'm getting ready for Passover is to plan a Seder (SAY-der). A Seder is the holiday meal that revolves around the retelling of the Passover story through symbol, prayer, song and food. Think Thanksgiving on steroids but without the stuffing. I invite friends who are like family and we sit around the table and squeeze an otherwise four hour long ordeal into a modified fifteen minute yet comprehensive poetic version of the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston without any love affairs or Technicolor. It goes something like this…they tried to annihilate us, we whipped 'em, let's eat.
During the planning process, I am also faced with the quandary of how to best observe the entire holiday, not just the Seder part. While I don't change dishes or buy all foods that are "Kosher for Passover", many Jewish families do. But, during the eight days we do not eat bread or anything that has obviously "risen" and in my house that's basically just bread, cake or anything we deem to be fluffed up. My own internal debate as to whether Oreos without the middle are flat enough to be eaten on Passover is as of yet, unresolved.
To make room for Passover foods in the house and for the holiday, in our heads, we begin by eating all the chametz (it's the "ch" sound again), or leavened products in the house. Certainly we could sell it all for a dollar, as is customary, to a non-Jew, but eating it is more fun. We then perform the ritual dusting with the feather to ensure that all the chametz crumbs are gone from the house. The problem is, in my cabinets we need a full feather duster. In Passover as in life, every family has their own rules.
With the cabinets cleaned, the shopping ensues. I arrive home from the grocery store with boxes of matzah, matzah meal, matzah farfel, matzah flour, matzah cake mix and a case of macaroons. I store it all on top of our spare refrigerator in the laundry room right in front of the leftover matzah from 2006, 2005 and 2004. Matzah lasts forever.
And while some of that (new) matzah packed in my kids' lunches might spark comments among their classmates, I always include extra, because it seems to be the hit of the cafeteria every year.
It's a time when my kids wear their religion on their sleeve, so to speak. They share a bit of Jewish culture at the lunch table where their friends can taste it, for real. That's the reminder in one full swoop that they're different and the same, at the very same time. They're sharing bland and binding crackers, but part of a rich and colorful heritage of which they are both educated, and proud – and then they go off math class.
Even when I make light of it, it's pretty heavy duty.
The fact that my kids know what to expect, and therefore, expect it, is very reassuring. They remind me about everything from making homemade matzah to the Passover mac 'n cheese to our aversion to gefilte fish to who gets to search for the Afikomen (a hidden piece of matzah) during the Seder to the silly props on the holiday table to a debate on why or why not beans or pasta or rice are eaten on Passover.
So I guess the best part of Passover, aside from the macaroons, is the unfailing recurrence of every part of it every year, making it a week filled with our own family traditions.
And for me, that's enough, or as we say at the Seder -- Dayenu!
Amy Sue Nathanís debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martinís Press in Spring 2013. In addition to The Imperfect Parent, Amyís stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She is also a freelance fiction editor, a reader for literary agents, and Secretary of the RWA-WF Chapter. In 2011 Amy launched Womenís Fiction Writers, a blog focusing on the authors, business and craft of traditionally published womenís fiction.
Amy lives near Chicago and is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan where she tweets about writing, books, parenting, and chocolate.
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