In the weeks before Passover, I see countless Facebook posts lamenting how much people dislike the holiday and what a hassle it all is. Pesach is often so overwhelming that cruises and hotels offer seders so we can get away from home at this special time of year.
Taping shut the closets, turning on the house alarm, and going far, far away is one alternative to the cleaning, the expense, and – dare I say it – the obsession over food at Passover. Special kosher-for-Passover bagels, sponge cake mixes that literally taste like sponges, and the worst excuses for breakfast cereal I have ever seen – all of these feel like some new kind of slavery.
Another answer is to simplify Pesach.
I'd like to share with you five tips for an easier and meaningful Passover this year. Take what you like and throw the rest away with your leftover matzah!
- First and foremost, let's build the "festival of liberation" into what we buy. Here's one easy way: Many of us go through dozens of eggs during Passover. This year, buy them free-range so at least you know the chickens who lay them have some measure of freedom. Yes, they are more expensive than factory-farmed white eggs from chickens with beaks clipped, stacked in pens on top of each other. Fair-trade coffee and tea, too – closed and fresh for the holiday – is about as kosher as you can get from an ethical standpoint. It keeps us from purchasing the products of child and slave labor; isn't that the very essence of Passover?
- Skip all processed food at Passover. Your food bill will be cheaper, and you will feel less overwhelmed in the store aisles. Do you really need duck sauce for one week? Kosher-for-Passover noodles that you keep promising you’ll never buy again because you end up throwing out most of the gloopy mess? Learn to make easy blender mayonnaise with eggs and oil. Throw some cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and salt into the broiler, and you’ve got tomato sauce. Toast some chopped nuts and matzah farfel in melted butter and honey and you’ve got Passover granola. Enjoy the produce of spring! Isn't that the very essence of Passover?
- Learn which foods need to be marked with a label and which don’t. Don’t get sucked into the kosher-for-Pesach product vortex. This year, I saw kosher-for-Passover pre-mixed saltwater for your seder, the product of a clever marketer who turned Passover anxiety into profit. Jewish knowledge: Isn't that the very essence of Passover?
- Let's talk about kitniyot, the legumes – rice, beans, chickpeas – that many Ashkenazi Jews do not eat on Passover. At one time, I was a triumphalist, kosherer-than-thou, ethnocentric Ashkenazi Jew about this very topic, but if it’s good enough for the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, it’s good enough for me. In fact, the Conservative Movement ruled that Ashkenazi Jews may eat kitniyot, and the Reform Movement said it was OK way back in the 1880s. In Israel, so many religious Ashkenazi Jews eat kitniyot that it's become a kind of minhag Yisrael, or Israeli custom. There is even an Orthodox “Kitniyot Liberation Front” website populated by Jews giving serious challenge to an Eastern European tradition that has outlived its original concern: the accidental mixing of wheat kernels into rice. Jewish unity: isn't that the very essence of Passover?
- Go outside every single day of Passover and walk. It’s a spring holiday, but how can we feel it if we are constantly indoors? Your ability to bless the flowers and sun and sky once again will be activated against the post-seder sluggishness that arises from eating so much heavy food. Each day of Pesach, try and experience one measure of freedom. Gratefulness: Isn't that the very essence of Passover?
What can be more meaningful than celebrating spring, freedom, family, community, knowledge, gratefulness, and Jewish unity? Don't let the food get in the way! Instead, enjoy a change of diet for a week and embrace the challenge. My formula is what I like to call KISS: Keep It Simple, Semites! You’ll find yourself lamenting a lot less – and maybe even enjoying the holiday.