A Passover Story

I have a habit of making unnecessary challenges for myself. Whether it’s finishing a book that I’ve started but don’t like or unpacking a car-load of groceries in one trip, I can’t say that my personal “dares” are ever important or even practical. My most recent endeavor, however, has proved to be more meaningful than I ever anticipated.

Since last Wednesday at sundown, I have been following a Kosher and Passover diet. I should clarify: I am not Jewish. In fact, ten years of Catholic school hardly prepared me to participate in Jewish customs for a week. Let me be honest in saying that I did not intend for this experiment (as it were) to have any relevance to religion. I may be officially considered a lapsed Catholic, but my religious beliefs aside, my reasons for being Kosher stemmed more from curiosity and a quirky need to constantly challenge myself. This should not suggest, however, that I went about it in a caviler or arbitrary fashion. I have a profound respect for all religions, including Judaism, and so I did research into Kosher and the practices of Passover. I talked to Jewish friends, who described to me their family’s traditions and own adherence to Passover. I discovered terms I had never known before: Chametz, Haggadot, Pesach. Although I did not follow the rituals of Passover, I did feel it was important to understand the reason and context for the rituals.

So, what did I eat? Matzo, rice, and peanut butter. Since finding a Jewish deli in or near Hamilton seemed pretty much impossible, I refrained from meat altogether (it’s a good thing I like tofu!). While going without bread for a week wasn’t awful (matzo is actually pretty delicious, especially with chocolate–thanks BA!), I did struggle without my daily bowl of cereal. I really enjoyed being creative and inventive when it came to cuisine. As a foodie, taste is paramount in my mind and putting restrictions on ingredients allowed me to experiment with new recipes (tofu curry or Caribbean black bean salmon).

Not only do I consider my diet to be a success, I also learned a few things that I wasn’t expecting. This year, Passover fell on Easter weekend. I went home for Easter this year, expecting that to keep Passover in this setting would be exceedingly difficult. Actually, I found it pretty easy to avoid the ham and pasta and cakes (maybe because I had a basket-full of candy to console me). What I really came away from this weekend with was an appreciation of tradition. I might have hinted that my family isn’t the most devout bunch, but there is one thing that we know how to do right on Easter: keep tradition. Whether it’s the hour-long egg hunt (my dad’s yearly attempt to outwit his now grown-up children) or the epic egg-cracking competition (of which I am reigning champion, two years running), this year, more so than any other, I have come to appreciate the family rituals that create a meaningful holiday. I’ve noticed the same trends in Judaism. Each family adapts Jewish rituals and makes them their own. So, even divorced of religious significance, it is these yearly traditions that afford us with a sense of identity and purpose.

Just stop me if I’m getting overly sentimental, but this experiment has really made me consider the delineations of religion. Are we really so different after all? Don’t we find meaning and solidarity in similar things? O.K., maybe not the best topic for small talk, but salient questions nonetheless. I can only hope that my future endeavors can match up to this one. But somehow I think that future challenges, like finding a nautical-themed pashmina afghan or competing in a marathon/donut-eating competition, just won’t quite cut it.