Family · Food · Religious life

Pesach: Memories from Home

We did a huge cleaning today in anticipation of Pesach.

This is one holiday that makes me particularly nostalgic, remembering how I used to celebrate it growing up. One of the huge gaps of celebrating Pesach at home in Japan and in places like New York was food.

My association with Pesach is one of simplicity. The only Passover-specific food we could access came from the JCC. A month or so before Passover, they will send us a simple one-page form that listed options of what we could order: various kinds of matzah, matzah meal, and matzah meal cake mix of different flavors. Those are the only things I remember from it. There must have been more, but there were also not many rows on the order form.

We couldn’t use our usual flavorings like miso and shoyu so our vegetable passover soups were simply salt flavored.

We didn’t eat kitniyot during Passover following Ashkenazi custom so we basically couldn’t eat anything we normally ate like rice, miso, shoyu, tofu, and the various tofu products that were a part of our lives (like aburaage/usuage).

During Passover, we basically subsisted on salt-flavored vegetable soup with matzo balls, matzah with creamed cottage cheese (bought locally), matzah, gefilte fish, simply boiled vegetables, etc., which all seemed very ascetic to me. And then, I went to New York City for college.

I remember the shock that I felt when I walked into the pre-Pesach supermarket around the corner from my college. There were mounds and mounds of Kosher-for-Passover foods that didn’t look like they were kosher for Passover!! Cereal? Bread? Pasta? It seemed excessive and completely contrary to the spirit of Passover, or at least to the image of Passover I had grown up with.

Passover in my mind wasn’t about how to get around the stringent rules around food. It was about living a completely different life from usual, trying to imagine living another life from another time, to connect to your ancestors (whether figuratively or literally) through the founding myth of Judaism, and to take your mind off food because the stringent laws make it so hard to eat your usual foods.

I’m happy that I am with someone who feels similarly and while we eat very well during Passover, we don’t buy those technically kosher-for-passover passover foods. Instead, we enjoy the change in our diet for the brief moment that Passover lasts.

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