How about an Alternative Passover tradition?

Passover, or Pessach in Hebrew, is upon us. The Eve of Passover, aka the Seder, is on Monday Evening.

Passover Obsessions

Going into town today, it was Passover frenzy all over the place: streets jammed with cars and people everywhere doing their holiday shopping. Those hosting the family for the Seder shop for food, food and more food. Their guests on the other hand, are shopping for fancy gifts to give to their hosts and to everyone else attending.

The other Passover obsession is with cleaning. This is more than just spring cleaning for religious or observant Jews. They aim at eradicating every and any crumb of chametz from their home.

For the non-Jews reading this: originally, chametz was the pita bread dough that the Biblical People of Israel didn’t get a chance to wait out for it to ferment and rise. Literally, chametz is a take off on the word “sour”, as in sour dough (fermented dough).  So, the Bible tells us not to eat fermented dough products on Passover. Orthodox Jews have taken this a few steps further, as they’ve done with most things, and these days, pretty much anything that doesn’t have a “Kosher for Pessach” stamp on it is forbidden.

Religious Jews freak out over this Chametz business. Houses are pulled apart, cleaned and put together again, just to avoid even the tiniest of crumbs. God forbid.

Looking at all of this saddens me. I’m not religious, but I’m very Jewish, and have my own take on Passover, derived from the cultural and historical context of this holiday.

What Passover is Really About

On his holiday, we celebrate something very special. Regardless of historical accuracy (or lack of it), it is a forming event in our national psyche. The main theme is freedom. More specifically:  the move from a state of enslavement towards national freedom.

The process was not an easy one, and took literally decades. It was a mental journey for these tribal people as much as a physical one – a forty years long hike in the desert.

So, yes, as they were leaving the place, they were in hurry and their pita bread didn’t rise. Is this really what we should pay so much attention to on this holiday? Honestly, I’d be pretty insulted, as a religious person, if I thought bread crumbs are what my God is obsessed with.

Not to mention the huge meals and gift exchanging, when the whole point of the process was to leave material comforts – in the form of the Biblical “pot of meat” behind, in the quest for freedom.

Thoughts About Alternative Passover Customs

In light of the real meaning of the holiday, I’d like to humbly suggest some alternative customs. Take a break from the shopping frenzy and bread crumbs chase (sounds like a great game for my new iPod Touch) and try these instead:

  1. Remember how we used to be “the foreign workers ” in Egypt? How about showing some compassion for the foreign workers in Israel these days? Things that come to mind: the government giving a period of grace for illegal workers and maybe even giving citizenship to their children who were born in Israel, as well as to the parents. On a more personal level, how about inviting these people over to your Seder? Share some Jewish traditions with them and make them feel welcome in this country?
  2. God really wanted the People of Israel to leave behind their “pot of meat” – so why not go for a vegetarian Seder meal? It will be kind to your bodies and to the environment, and will be very much in the spirit of the biblical story.
  3. The People of Israel had to walk to Israel. On foot. For forty years. That’s some hike. I suggest a long family hike as a new Passover tradition. We’re going to try this ourselves, packing up the kids and going on a long hike from the coast of the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. On foot, camping out in tents for seven nights. Yes, we’ll be spending the Seder out camping!
  4. Finally, and I know, this one is a bit far fetched… but let’s keep cats in mind. The former  deities of Egypt sure could use your help, so care for feral cats is something I would try and push on this holiday as well. It’s a great time for a TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) project in your neighborhood, preventing unwanted litters of kittens in a couple of months time. For more information, please read my article about feral cats.

So, what do you think? How does your family spend the holiday and what do you think about my new suggestions?

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21 Responses to How about an Alternative Passover tradition?

  1. RunnyKnows2 says:

    Hopefully Israel’s foreign workers aren’t treated as poorly as the slaves in Egypt. Though your suggestion of compassion for foreign workers is a great idea – Passover time and all year round.

    Enjoy your hike. Sounds wonderful.

  2. Rafi says:

    Interesting suggestions. I particularly like the long hike…

    I disagree with the citizenship for foreign workers idea though. Of course they must be treated well while they are here, but I am in favor of having them leave when their visas run out.
    And no, just because they had a kid while they were here, I dont think that is a reason to grant them citizenship. We have enough problems of our own, we dont have to start importing the problems of other people.

    I would starve to death if I became a vegetarian.

    cats dont interest me. very strange but for a brief period I thought today one had been gnawing at my leg. Long story but I dont think the cat actually was eating my leg. I would be happy to deal with other animals like geese and ducks, but cats dont interest me. i dont particularly like them. Sorry.
    .-= Rafi´s last blog ..Telling the askanim where to stick it =-.

    • IsraeliMom says:

      I think that exceptions should be made for those kids who grew up here. They speak Hebrew, go through our school system, love the country, and are basically Israelis. I’d be proud and honored to have them as fellow citizens. I’d really like to see some cultural diversity in immigration anyway – the “only Jews” policy does not sit well with me at all. Also, I’m all for a quota for refugees like from Darfur.

      It’s not importing other people’s trouble, it’s being compassionate, in the way we complain other nations were not during world war 2. I definitely think the Jewish country, more than any other country in the world, should open its doors to refugees and give at least some of them citizenship.

      Oh, and trust me, vegetarians don’t starve to death 😉 Vegetables are your friends! You just need the right mindset and you can make delicious food with no meat whatsoever. One night a year would be a good start – let’s here it for the Vegetarian Seder!

      • Rafi says:

        compassion does not have to mean giving them citizenship. we gave them a place to take refuge, and eventually they need to move on. How long they should be allowed to stay? I have no idea. But when the professionals who know how to figure that stuff out say a certain amount of time is enough to let them get back on their feet and find a permanent home somewhere, that is enough time for me.

        But this is really only relevant to the refugees. The foreign workers are often migrants looking for work. They come here because they find a relatively decent salary, compared to other nearby countries, and find work. How is our allowing them to stay showing compassion? And more so, how is giving them citizenship? Let them move on to other pastures after x amount of time.
        .-= Rafi´s last blog ..Telling the askanim where to stick it =-.

      • Mark says:

        Additionally, what is compassionate in the short-term is often cruel in the long-term. While it definitely helps while work is desperately needed, the children often never fit in properly and suffer because of it.

      • IsraeliMom says:

        Mark – these kids are much more Israeli than your average Oleh Hadash. They grew up here, got their education at Israeli schools, speak the language, know the culture, you name it. They will be misfits in their countries of origin.

        The long-term and short-term right thing is to grant them citizenship. I am ashamed of my country for not doing just that. Here’s an idea – how about giving people a test before we grant them citizenship? check how much they actually know about Israel, how committed they are. I hear it’s the standard in the US. Those kids pass with flying colors – and wouldn’t hurt Olim Hadashim to take an interest in these topics as well.

  3. rgoldstand says:

    I *just* began my Passover preparations tonight so I have many many crumbs & dust-bunnies yet to chase, but since you asked so kindly…

    I don’t think there is anything ridiculous about a G-d or a religion where the minute details are often just as important as the big picture. I mean,  individual human beings are pretty insignificant on a cosmic scale, practically no larger – or more important in the big picture – than a crumb, yet most people don’t find the idea of Divine providence ridiculous (even if you do…) I believe in an unfathomable G-d, who nevertheless chose to communicate with His people & give us a Guidebook on how to live in the world He gave us. I believe that we cannot know the impact of a single molecule in G-d’s calculations (kind of – but not exactly – like I wouldn’t try to move a single punctuation mark in a line of computer code). However, if He commands me to be careful not to eat a single crumb of leavened dough on Passover, I will cover my refrigerator shelves to make sure no accidental crumb touches my food that week. I will not, however, take apart my clothes closet and boil the hinges… 😉 (JK, I *hope* no one is that…eccentric!) 

    I do try to take advantge of the “holiday spirit” to move things aside and sweep behind/dust beneath things that probably haven’t been touched since last Passover… 😉 But that is only of secondary importance, and I really don’t do any heavy cleaning outside of the cooking/dining area. In those areas, everything gets cleaned as thoroughly as possible and surfaces where I will directly place food on Passover get covered.

    As for learning kindness to the foreigners in our midst, the Torah is full of such admonitions in reference to our experience in Egypt, so that point is right on target. The other points, somewhat less so. The Plagues demonstrated G-d’s power over Nature, especially those parts of Nature that were considered Egyptian deities, so the royal felines are decidely not held in high favor this time of year. And meat, food of kings, helps us break the psychological bonds of slavery and be like kings ourselves on the Seder night, as does wine and reclining on cushions while we dine…

    • IsraeliMom says:

      Thank you so much for the detailed reply. We’ve had the god’s guidebook debate before. Just doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe I’m just not as obedient … Can’t imagine following such petty rules without questioning them. No offense!

    • IsraeliMom says:

      Ronit, one more thing. Regarding the meat and the psychological barriers. Couldn’t we do the same with fancy vegetarian dishes? Poor people eat lots of meat nowadays, it really is far from being regal food anymore. Isn’t it time to change that?

      • Mark says:

        My sisters make wonderful seder meals, sure they have meat dishes, but they also have plenty of wonderful vegetarian dishes, and some of the folks tend to only eat those as they prefer not to eat meat so late at night. One sister has started making quinoa in recent years, and she also makes a wonderful roasted root vegetable dish that I love!

        Poor people eat lots of meat nowadays, it really is far from being regal food anymore.

        This is an excellent point and should have more discussion on its own.

  4. Keshet Bachan says:

    Dear Israelimom,

    I absolutely agree with your views. modern consumerist Israel has lost sight of many of the original values religious Jewish holidays were attempting to imbue. A number of years ago I would have said Kibbutz’s were the last stronghold of Jewish/Israeli values inasmuch as celebration of Jewish holidays was always strongly connected with Zionist morals. These days, the kibbutz where I was born and raised charges a fee to participate in the Passover Seder.

    Perhaps this disconnect can be blamed for the ‘disaffectedness’ of Israeli youth? perhaps it is the reason so many of us (me included) have left the country and established a life abroad? The Jewish communities in the Diaspora seemed to have preserved a lot of the values we have lost sight of – like respecting difference: of race, colour and religion; most of all I believe we have lost sight of compassion.

    I think that is the thread that binds all your thoughtful suggestions together – compassion.

    We Israeli’s are so busy defending ourselves from everyone, we have built a ‘wall’ around our hearts as well as our country, and we can’t see beyond it to those who truly need our help. Foreign workers and Sudanese refugees, are a point in fact. How can a country that was established by ‘she’erit hapleta’ – the last of the starving remnants fleeing hate and systematic murder, turn their backs on people experiencing the same need?

    I hope you and your family have a great holiday – enjoy Israel’s countryside! Keep spreading the love – it’s bound to catch on at some point I’m sure!


    • IsraeliMom says:

      I’m sorry you felt like you had to leave Israel over this, so some days I can definitely relate! I know some wonderful kids who are very very dedicated to doing right. Out of hubby’s 7 nephews and nieces over the age of 18, two did secular sherut leumi in addition to their military service. The others are all very good kids too – compassionate, kind and patriotic (and all 100% secular).

      It’s still there! Though I guess you’re right, in a way, we’re being outnumbered… You may want to read my post about Zionism. I’ve been meaning to add a sequel named “Who Moved My Zionism?” – like that book with the cheese 😉

  5. E. Fink says:

    They say, “The Devil is in the Details”. We say, “The Beauty is in the Details”.

    Paying attention to detail is the best way for us to show that we care. It is that way in any relationship and Judaism is a relationship. Doing what I want to do in a relationship is an expression of selfishness, not love. Doing what the other wants in a relationship is an expression of love.

    The very best way to make a relationship work is to share interests with the other.

    In Judaism it can be useful to try to understand and appreciate the details so that when we do those details we can feel just as passionately as you so beautifully described additional Pesach actions.

    As we say in the haggada. V’chol hamarbeh, harey zeh meshubach, the more ways we can express our freedom and the appreciation we have for that freedom on Pesach, the more praiseworthy it is.

    Your ideas are wonderful, but really, they are supplementary. To close the circle on the analogy it is like a husband taking his reluctant wife to a boxing match that she may or may not enjoy. If their relationship is strong and he pays attention to all the details and things she loves, then the boxing match will not hurt their relationship and in fact may even help it. But if he ignores the details and only acts in his own interest, then the boxing match will have no positive impact on their relationship.

    (Sorry for the long comment.)
    .-= E. Fink´s last blog ..300th Post: Some Of The Most Interesting of the First 300 =-.

    • IsraeliMom says:

      Well, to go along with your metaphor. If I had a spouse that had bread crumbs OCD, I think I would have gotten him some professional help. I’m glad you liked my suggestions, but I still think that the bi’ur chametz has turned into a total obsession and IMHO is losing the spiritual meaning and turning into something that is very mundane and worldly instead.

      • Mark says:

        I think you are mistaking “bread crumbs OCD” with “spring cleaning OCD”, neither of which have anything to do with Pesach. Orthodox Rabbis have been very clear about what is required to prepare for Pesach, here’s a recent example –

        Just because some people go completely nutty regarding their cleaning doesn’t mean that it is a requirement. In fact, I would prefer for people to lighten up a bit with the cleaning before the nuttiness becomes a sort of requirement.

  6. rgoldstand says:

    Many things in Jewish religious practise have a strong “mundane & worldly” aspect; by including every aspect of our mundane worldly lives in our service of the Divine, we are able to transform even the smallest and most worldly parts of our lives into something spiritual. It doesn’t mean G-d has “bread crumb OCD” it means He wants us to know that not even a bread crumb is beneath His attention when it is a crumb that we removed out of our Love and respect for His commandments.
    .-= rgoldstand´s last blog ..rgoldstand: @Batshem Yup, me too. So basically just pretend it’s 11 pm already…. =-.

  7. Lisa says:

    I just recently posted on another blog about the Passover and pending Easter celebration. Being raised in a Christian family by preacher parents, I learned a respect for these traditions.

    However, as I no longer follow organized religious traditions and ceremonies, I do acknowledge the powers that reign over humanity. As such, it is important for most to keep with tradition (some more than others as you suggested) and then there are those that don’t practice what they preach (also, as you stated).

    I am all for non-traditional ways of celebrating these significant times, at the same time honoring the true meaning and worth of these events.

    Cudos to you for your list of ways to make this time worthwhile and be respectful of the needs in the community!
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Eating In the Raw =-.

    • IsraeliMom says:

      Thank you for the comment, Lisa. I have to say, our Seder, with friends, at a remote farm in the Galilee, was very nice. It was outdoors, among goats, horses, dogs and cats, but we managed to actually instill some meaningful talking into it and the kids were surprisingly alert despite the late hour (well, for a bit at least 😉 ).

  8. amen sister! while for many this holiday is all about bread, or um- lack thereof, the big picture is indeed about freedom! my favorite line? “i’m not religious, but i’m deeply jewish.” couldn’t have said it better myself. really. and my favorite idea? the long family hike: pure bliss and authentic meaning-making. thank you for a great post!
    .-= Minnesota Mamaleh´s last blog ..Minnesota Mamaleh: Free is NOT Shtoopy =-.