(April 8, 2020 / JNS) Passover’s not my favorite holiday. It never has been, not as a child and not as an adult.
Before you point fingers at me for not advocating freedom (all for it), matzah (tasty) or the recitation of the 10 plagues (amazing), let me explain.
As a kid, I loved when family and friends arrived at our door for the seder, laden with first courses, side dishes and a variety of desserts. I even loved the long nights reading esoteric portions of the Haggadah (the youngest of the crowd inevitably stumbled over the word “Eternal,” as we all snickered when it came out “Internal”) and the loud, somewhat loopy singing that completed the festivities.
I didn’t mind the gelt, either, though I was never so fond of pushing siblings and cousins out of the way to find a minute piece of matzah hidden by my father when so much of it was easily accessible on the dining-room table. And why was it that when you took that last bite of afikomen, you couldn’t have anything else to eat (not even one of those toxic-colored jelly candies)?
Then there was the fact that my sister’s birthday tended to fall during the holiday, and the poor kid almost always got a Passover cake—not one of those fluffy, double-layer ones decorated to the hilt. And because the holiday fell over spring break, our version of traveling was to open the door for Elijah, while others were headed to the Bahamas or Boca Raton.
But what really bothered me was the suffering. The overworked slaves. The doubting Shimons who thought that no one had their backs. The herd mentality and the very poor behavior of the Israelites as they waited for Moses to bring them the Ten Commandments.
And the fact that next year, we were supposed to be in Jerusalem. If that were so, then why weren’t we there?
As a graduate student in New York City, I attended many a seder that went on for hours. That didn’t bother me, but all of the complaints about the Israelites and the intellectual deconstruction of their behavior, then and now, often had me on edge.
Many years later as a parent, the holiday continued to weigh on me.
So much preceded its arrival—the cleaning, the shopping, the meal planning and cooking. The last-minute news stories that had to be published just hours before the start of one of the biggest meals of the year. And then getting my own kids dressed without someone pulling off their little tie or complaining that their collared shirt was uncomfortable.
Now, you would think that me being the mother of four sons, the holiday would suit me. Not so, and anyway, I like to think of them all as wise (no simple ones—certainly not any evil ones—and all have the ability to inquire).
No, I look a bit ahead to the holiday that few American Jews have on their list of favorite days. That would be Shavuot, when the Torah is received.
It’s so optimistic. So enlightening. It represents beginnings. It’s not about the bread of affliction on the run from Egypt, but about the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel.
On Passover, the people of Israel were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot, they were given the Torah and became a nation.
My youngest son was born the week of Shavuot. He represents an end of my line, but the beginning of a much larger one of generations to come.
It’s a holiday deep into the spring, and one that feels more representative of the freedoms we have as a family, a faith and a people.
Plus, I happen to make a wickedly good cheesecake.
Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.
This Reporter’s Notebook will appear starting on March 16 until the end of the month (or when schools reopen).
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