***Fair Warning- this post jumps a little all over the place- trying to correct in the editing process, but you’ve been warned ***
Every time I think about the variety of Jewish Holidays we celebrate; in the back of my mind, I’m always clocking the kinds of celebrations we have. The level of preparation we put into them, the way that level varies from person to person, the way it’s varied for me over my life. It’s funny to think of them throughout the year- Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah are the ones I easily go the hardest for- they’re hands down my favorite. Purim is the one I probably do the least for, and Sukkot, Tu Bishvat, Simchat Torah all fall somewhere in the middle. Yom Kippur is so solemn that there isn’t sense in counting it- it’s spent in inward reflection and atonement.
But these holidays are all different in the way we celebrate them within religious institutions as well. For Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah we celebrate in Shul, with prayers and services and so forth. Sukkot, Tu Bishvat and Passover are all seemingly celebrated outside of the Shul (though still with community and there are still Shul events to be attended). And of those, I personally feel like Pesach requires the utmost care and attention. It’s always, for me at least, been one of the bigger holidays on the calendar. Not only in preparation, but also in content.
So, a quick word on what Pesach is, how we celebrate it, and then what my family specifically does (as it is different, and different year to year- this may change in the future who knows).
Pesach (Passover) is the holiday in which the Jews celebrate their freedom from slavery during the Pharaohs time in Egypt. Without getting too nitty gritty, the Jews were slaves in Egypt (all those pyramids? Yea we built them), and Moses was given a task from Hashem to go to save the Jews. Throughout his speaking with Pharoah there were 10 plagues visited on the Egyptians by Hashem, the final being the death of the firstborn son of all the Egyptians. This last plague led to Pharoah releasing the Jews, causing them to flee in the darkness of night across the deserts of Egypt. Pharoah tried to chase after them, but they were free. Of course, they then wandered for 40 days and 40 nights and there was a whole bit about worshipping false idols, but it all ends with the Ten Commandments, and we are on our way.
Pesach is the holiday where we acknowledge the struggle of the Jews, the fight for the freedom, and the wandering in the desert. How do we celebrate that though?
Well, for starters, because the Jews were not able to wait for the bread to rise before fleeing, we purge our house of all chametz (leavened/ing items) and abstain from eating any bread/grain items for 8 nights. If you are strict in your home, you sell all of the bread/leavening, not kosher for Pesach items in your homes to a non-Jewish person. Most people will just pack the items away and place them outside the home (either with friends or in a garage, etc.). Some will tape up drawers and cabinets that have items they can’t use during the week. Once the house has had all chametz removed, the Kasher practice begins. This is a second step, a cleansing of spaces and cooking items to prepare for Pesach. The night before Pesach begins, there is one final hunt and prayer said to rid any last chametz. Instead of bread products, we eat something called Matzah- which is a dry cracker- unleavened bread.
The first night a Pesach a Seder is held. This seder is held in a family home, or a community hosts it, where we follow the Haggadah- a book full of prayers, songs, the story of Pesach, as well as various rituals to guide our evening. We have a Seder plate that ties into the Seder itself and is meaningful (and required to have a Seder) and we are commanded to drink 4 glasses of wine/grape juice. We make sure to acknowledge the plagues, the flight from Pharoah, the struggle of the Jewish people, as well as the freedom of the people. While a seder can be long, it does tend to be celebratory, and there is typically a lot of drinking (I had my first drink at a Pesach Seder). I honestly have some of my fondest memories form Seders in my childhood- ones that I treasure.
There is another seder on the second night of Pesach, and then things shift a bit as we take the week. The weekdays of Pesach are considered Chol HaMoed- a time for family and typically consist of family outings and time away from work/school. Throughout the week, there is no consumption of leavened products.
So, what do we do?
It’s complicated. I will usually tell my children the story of Passover, we will talk about the seder plate and what each item means and its importance, and that turns in to a very abbreviated Seder. We don’t rid our house of Chametz, as my husband does not celebrate and will go about his regular eating habits- as do our children, but I will typically abstain from eating bread products at breakfast and lunch (we still do normal dinners). The boys will each have a bit of matzah and try the various concoctions I create with it. I will eat kitniyot (this is a kosher thing), but dinners by and large will remain the same in our home. In the past I’ve gone all out with a Seder and as a child, some of my fondest Jewish memories are during Pesach, around the Seder table. This may change in the future, but I think it works for us in a way- it allows me to celebrate Pesach, to acknowledge my ancestors, to teach my children about our history, but also acknowledge that my husband is from a different background. (I feel like I should say, we don’t do Easter in our home- though the kids have done Easter egg hunts at their Grandparents and school).
Any questions? Please let me know- I would love to answer!