As of right now, I have a little less than 24 hours before Passover is over. I have been trying not to eat chametz or kitniyot during this time, and mostly succeeded…Except for a cheerio left on my counter the first day( was cleaning. It was only a few hours old. Don’t judge.), and some cheese bites that were breaded with something that might have been leavened, I’ve avoided the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats are the more modern interpretation of them). I also tried to avoid the kitniyot foods, but I admit I did eat chickpeas once, and I think those count, but really the rules for that are pretty vague. So I think I did as well as I could have hoped.
If you’re wondering why I did this, I have a few reasons. First, I wanted to see if I could (my first reason for almost everything). Second, I think the idea of giving something up for your faith is really losing its value in our society, as I’ve written about before(and no doubt will again). Third, I don’t find Lent that challenging anymore. The thing about Passover is that the rules are right there. (This seems to be the case with a lot of Judaism, actually.) For 8 days, give up these foods. It’s clear, as is the reason, to remember the struggles of the Israelites out of Egypt and the bloating of our modern egos by our leavened diet (in a nutshell, not all the details, obviously). So here you go. Do it.
For Lent? Give up…something. But who does, and when they do, who really fulfills it? “Oh, well, I gave up soda…so I’m having coffee today (with sugar).” “Oh, sorry, I gave up chocolate for Lent…so I’m having carrot cake.” “I’m not having alcohol for Lent…oh, wait, I just ordered a drink.” All real quotes. The second one might be mine… I know of very few people who still give up things like dairy or meat for the entirety of Lent. When you give up one thing, and you get to choose, it can be as narrow or as broad as you want; one item can easily leave the diet and be replaced with 5 more like it that are equally bad for you, or tempting, or unnecessary. And depending on who you talk to, it can be relaxed on Fridays, or Sundays, or special occasions, or whatever. 40 days, sure, but it depends on how you’re counting.
When you give up a whole group of ingredients, though, you have to think about it every day, every meal even. I don’t think I eat a lot of bread, or grains, mainly because they upset my stomach. But still, every time I went to the grocery store I remembered that I couldn’t get those rolls I really like, or a pizza for dinner, or stock up on oatmeal (I didn’t clean my house of chametz; I’m not that hardcore. I did, though, refrain from buying any more during that time). And when I walked down the street I was bombarded by all the things I do like that are chametz- “Oh, that girl is eating a sandwich.” “Those kids have pizza.” “Oh, a baked goods stand.” “Hmm, coffees and cakes…” Admittedly, I am living in a part of the world where no meal is complete without something doughy (and usually topped/mixed with bacon or ham). It did make me wonder if, had I been raised giving up bread and baked things for Passover, would I notice all of this? Maybe not as much. As it was, I was made aware of how much of my diet was still filled with bready things I didn’t always need.
On that note, some things I have learned from Passover so far:
1. Matzah, or rather its crumbs, gets into everything. If you bring this into your house, expect to find it on your floor, in your grocery bags, on your counters, in your sink, even in your fridge, until next Passover. It reminds me of sophomore year, when I found glitter from my homecoming dress in my car sometime in May.
2. That being said, it’s a surprisingly versatile cooking ingredient. Dipped in coffee or cocoa, broken up and fried covered in egg like french toast, you can even make lasagna with it(although I didn’t). I also like that it’s similar to the crackers I grew up with, like saltines or ritz, but it’s not salty.
3. When you decide to do something unusual, however harmless, it will confuse many. A friend invited me to Easter brunch. When I said I couldn’t have her pancakes, she reminded me that “You’re not Jewish, and pancakes are delicious.” Admittedly, reactions are half the reason I do unusual things.
4. Trying out someone else’s tradition can feel kind of phony at first, but it can also be gratifying.
All in all, I’m glad I did this and hope to do it again next year. I was mindful of my eating every day I was doing it, even several times a day…which I think is part of the point. Did it always feel like a religious act? I think so, in the way that I think any attempt at self-betterment is a religious act. I can’t say I thought of Moses and his brethren every time I declined a piece of cake, but I did think about what I needed versus what I wanted and could have. Do I want to eat something forbidden as soon as possible? Not exactly. Although I do have a Kit Kat bunny hiding in my freezer, which I believe does include some of that candy’s delicious wafer; Passover ends for me at 8.24 pm, and that rabbit will probably be gone by 9…partly because, well, vegetarians still love the feeling of biting a chocolate rabbit’s head off.