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Friday, May 22, 2015

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Next year, keep it simple!

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The seders are over and the matzah crumbs have been swept away. This is the first year I don’t have a lingering feeling of bondage.

On our flight to Vancouver to spend Pesach in a yurt on Gabriola Island with friends and our son at UBC, we ran into a large group of Jews on their way to Whistler, where a ski-and-seder week package looked incredibly alluring. We remembered the year we also considered escaping to a Caribbean island offering a sand-floor synagogue seder.

The week before Pesach we saw countless YouTube items and Facebook posts lamenting how much people “hate” Passover. When did Pesach become so overwhelming that hotels kosher their kitchens and cruises offer seders so that we can run away from home?

Taping shut the closets, turning on the house alarm and going far, far away is one alternative to the cleaning, koshering and expense and – dare I say it – obsession over Pesach food. Pesach bagels, brownie mixes, and the worst excuse for breakfast cereal I have ever seen or tasted feel like some kind of slavery.

But simplifying Pesach is another way to deal with the holiday.

I know that some of these suggestions will not work for some Jews. Still, I respectfully suggest five tips for an easier Passover next year. Take what you can and throw the rest away with your left-over matzah.

• Skip all processed food. 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 granola.

• 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 salt water for your seder. A clever marketer turned Passover anxiety into profit.

• Consider kitniyot – those pesky legumes that Ashkenazi Jews “do not eat.” I was once a triumphalist kosherer-than-thou ethnocentric Askenazi Jew about this, believe me. I wouldn’t even eat green beans –which are a vegetable and not a bean – because of their name. But the year we lived in Israel changed my mind and habits thoroughly. If it’s good enough for the Sephardi chief rabbi, it’s good enough for me. We met many observant Ashkenazi Jews in Jerusalem who do eat kitniyot because it is now the overriding “custom of Israel.” The Conservative movement has ruled that Ashkenazi Jews may eat kitniyot. There is even a “Kitniyot Liberation Front” website populated by Orthodox Jews giving serious challenge to an eastern European tradition that has outlived its original concern: the accidental mixing of wheat kernels into rice. We can now buy hermetically sealed and separated packages, so what’s it about? Are we concerned because it can be made into a bread-like product or mistaken for wheat, or rise if it gets a bit of water thrown on it? But not for Sephardi Jews? Tortillas look a lot like matzah, less bread-like than those packaged spongy roll-up cakes. And when my cornmeal gets a bit of water, it doesn’t rise, it becomes polenta.

• Go outside every single day and walk. It’s a spring holiday but how can we feel it if we are constantly indoors? Your stomach will thank you. And your ability to bless the flowers and sun and sky once again will be activated against the post-seder sluggishness that arises from eating too much heavy food.

• Invite your guests over for a pre-seder group cooking session. If your kashrut and theirs are the same, swallow your pride and do a potluck. Are we using resentful hours in the kitchen alone to assure our egos that ours are absolutely the best matzah balls in the universe and someone else’s cannot possibly be as good?

We are in the countdown days leading up to Shavuot. Personally, I’m counting down toward next Passover for a holiday I can learn to simply love, by keeping it simple.


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