Passover Sucks for Converts

I think that Passover sucks; there I said it. Don’t get me wrong, it a way it is all relevant. Like if I had to rank all of the Jewish holidays, Passover, or Pesach as it is called in Hebrew, would be last. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Judaism and being Jewish. I have a deep respect for the Torah and the wisdom of Jewish sages. But if there is anything that I have learned about myself in the past 3 years; is that I am done faking it and smiling about something that I do not enjoy.

So what is it about Passover that I don’t enjoy. Well, let’s go back to the beginning shall we?

After I left college, I found that most of my Jewish friends were either senior citizens, or at least empty nesters. This was the case from my Reform days all the way through to Orthodox. I wish I knew why this was. I mean I’ve always tended to deeply respect seniors — being that my Grandparents raised me. The way that many seniors do Passover, is to just clean their homes and go to community seders. So for many years, that is what I did too. I did not attend seders in homes; but rather various social halls where you are surrounded by a hundred or so other people and you all fumble through the haggadah (the book that tells the order of the seder) together.

So yes, I did not eat bread for a week. But Passover was largely an event…not a period in time.

When I became Orthodox, it became more common for me to spend Pesach in people’s homes. Although there was a sense of awkwardness about that. You see, on yom tovim, Jewish holidays, Jews are permitted to cook — but only for other Jews. They can’t cook for non-Jews. So I would need to give my hosts this disclaimer ahead of time. When I converted 10 years ago, it was right before Pesach. My immediate thrill is that I could attend a seder without causing any Jews to inadvertently sin! 🙂

Fast forward to today when he have to Passover under our belts since COVID became a thing. Last year, we were quarantined with my Dad down in Florida. That Passover seder was clobbered together but for the most part, I felt like I was performing a play or something (since my Dad and his family aren’t Jewish). This year, it was nice to be at home. Prep was more meaningful and purposeful. However, when Shabbat ended and Passover began, I was again in uncharted territory. Here I am trying to conduct a seder for myself and 3 toddlers who in spite of my prepping them by watching the Prince of Egypt beforehand, just really didn’t seem interested in any of it (except for the stickers and the finger puppets of the plagues I brought).

Watching the “Prince of Egypt” with my kids accomplished more than the Maggid did at the seder

So here, let me just list my issues:

1. The Haggadot

Yeah, I’m not impressed by any of the ones I’ve seen. I have one from Orthodox to totally non-religious. Even the children ones – I couldn’t even bring myself to bring to the table. I used the Maxwell House one for the seder; but found myself reading the Kveller Haggadah to keep me interested. But I couldn’t help but to notice the constant ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ them of it all. I get it. Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates an event that happened to the Jews. But guess what. There are non-Jews at seders and more importantly, there are Jews who always weren’t Jews at seders. Many of these haggadot ask us to consider the plight of others as well — the LBGQT community, the African-American community, even women. But it’s all so paternalistic.

2. Minhag Rules Supreme

More than any other Jewish holiday, the wild card of minhag, which is loosely translated as ‘custom’, comes into play. Minhag is the reason why some Jews eat rice on Pesach and other don’t; why some eat matza balls, and others don’t; why some seder plates are set for 6 items and others several more. It’s why some families beat each other with green onions during the seder, while others hit the guests on the head.

But here’s the thing. I, an unmarried convert, have no minhag. I have been involved with several congregations since my conversion. I don’t have one particular Rav that I use for guidance. I don’t live in a community with specifically strong minhagim that are followed by the majority of the congregation (which is Ashkenaz; but even within that, there are variances).

In all honesty it is hard for me to embrace something that does not embrace me back. As a Jew, I am forbidden to consume, own and benefit from chometz during Passover. But I’ll have my peanuts and corn without guilt.

3. It is Family-Oriented

Traditional Judaism is very family-oriented. So this is hardly a big surprise. The difference with Passover is that amount of time that is spent hunkered down at home, apart from the community. This is the first year that I ever did bedikat chametz – the search for leaven at night by candle-light. Not because I wasn’t aware of it. But more because, “Um, what’s the point?” Now that my boys are old enough to enjoy it, I did it. But if I didn’t have them. Yeah – I wouldn’t do it.

It is because of this family-centeredness, that my own seder just tanked. I was planning on doing it traditional style on my own; but at the last minute we graciously got an invite to participate in a Zoom seder given by friends. And while it was a halachaik faux-pas (oh well folks, it’s a pandemic), I am grateful for it. Because if it wasn’t for that inclusion, it would have hardly felt like a seder. My oldest son was sleep by the start of the seder. My twins could not focus and went from poking around with the table settings and seder plate to just running circles around the dining room. I got finger puppets to represent the plagues. That held their attention for like 10 minutes tops. The honest truth was that they just weren’t getting it. No amount of yelling or threats could change that. It was just, Mommy is sitting there reading from some book. Let’s drink grape juice and eat lettuce!

So yeah, thank God for the Prince of Egypt!

4. It’s Exhausting

So I was fine with the cleaning. It was a treat actually to clean up my house, get someone to clean out my car, dust in places that I totally forgot about. Kashering the kitchen was not as much fun, but whatever. But what really got me was the cooking. Shabbos and then right into yontif. I spent the better part of a day and two evenings making food. And my boys ate just about none of it. Even me – I only had fish and soup at the first seder. I had no appetite and I was just tired. And I knew that I wasn’t going to do a second seder. To hell with that. Seriously. I didn’t have it in me. I am one person. And I just couldn’t do it.

5. See No Evil, Hear No Evil

A woman on Facebook asked a question about her child not wanting to eat kosher for Passover food. They ripped her a new one in the comments. Ok, so the halacha is that no Jew should own, consume or benefit from chometz on Passover. We get that. But guess what? Not all Jews keep halacha properly. Even the ones that look down their noses and tell other Jews what they should be doing. It just turns my stomach. And while I am not chassidic in the least, it gives me a sense of respect and admiration for many Chabad rabbis. Because they are quite machmir (strict) in their observance of Pesach — but don’t give people the riot act if they are not holding where they should be. That is not love — and in many instances it accomplishes nothing. It makes me not want to talk about what we do in our house. Not because I am ashamed. But more because I do not want to hear people’s mouths and criticism of me. I’m tired of it quite frankly.

So I will do what I can to survive this difficult time. Difficult — not because we can’t eat bread/gluten/leavened products; but because Passover is like the final frontier for converts. Nothing about this holiday has been passed down to us properly. It is an insular holiday and that just grates my nerves to the core since insularity tends to have a high tolerance for dysfunction.