The weeks following Purim are some of most tense for me. It’s not the third-quarter homework that has suddenly piled up or the post-holiday letdown or the sugar crash or the fact that I suddenly realize I’ve run out of Smarties, but the dread of the impending doom of the event lying before me: Pesach.
I have a confession: I don’t like Pesach as much as I am supposed to. Admittedly, it’s no Tisha b’Av, but for a holiday that’s supposed to make us rejoice it really brings me down. Even Egypt sounds like a good place to hide out come Nisan, at least they have warm weather. How did this state of affairs come about?
Part of the problem is the relationship of Pesach to the secular calendar. In December I can smile at the decorated trees and at the sounds of carols coming out of radios tuned to popular light music stations. Let the Christians enjoy their holiday because I have latkes and dreidels, chocolate gelt and sufganiyot waiting for me at home. But in the spring as I watch the non-Jewish kids eat their cute, chocolate marshmallow animals I feel inadequate. Fruit slices just don’t seem to compare. Maybe this year I’ll try biting my matzah into fun shapes. Hey, if you squint, it looks like a swarm of locusts!
But I think the other challenge of Pesach is the Jewish calendar itself. A yom tov is a wonderful thing. It’s like Shabbat but with the added bonus of special holiday customs and a specific commandment to be joyful. It’s a nice, relaxing time to sit back and enjoy the fruits (because that’s pretty much all we can eat besides matzah) of our religion.
But Judaism calls for everything to be in balance, the sacred and the profane, the holy day and the work day. Four days “of rest” in one week gets to be a little much. If chol hamoed (intermediate days) includes a Shabbat (mercifully not this year) then the majority of the eight-day holiday is comprised of holy days with restrictions on work.
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This means that the days of chol hamoed that everyone says are for Six Flags, partying or just goofing off are really for cramming in the school work supplied by teachers who seem to connect the word “vacation” to extra homework the way Pavlov’s dogs connected a ringing bell to dinner. Throw in the mandatory annual viewing of “Prince of Egypt” and you barely have 18 minutes to let your matzah bake!
And is that second seder really necessary? I know we need an extra day of yom tov because we’re living outside of Israel, but why must we re-enact “Groundhog Day”? Nowadays we can accurately predict when the new moon is over Israel. We even have indoor plumbing. Dayenu is really long enough (pun intended) the first time.
The two sedarim are redundant and exhausting. You barely have time to recover from the first night of rejoicing when it all starts over again. It is difficult the second night not only to reproduce the feeling (and food) from the first night, but even to remain conscious.
Why am I complaining you ask? So you have to prepare a huge dinner twice and don’t have as much time to check your Facebook. Life goes on and there is much beauty in our Jewish traditions. Beauty, that is, until the second seder is over and you think about what you are going to eat for the rest of the week. For this longest of Jewish holidays also has the most difficult restrictions.
A fast day here or there never hurt anybody and keeping the laws of kashrut becomes not just second nature but a true benefit to those who follow its ways. But over a week without leavened products is nigh-impossible. I also happen to be a vegetarian—which makes things much worse—but even for those who eat meat a week with no bread, no pasta, no cookies, no cereal, no pastries, nothing with any sort of substance or consistency is a challenge.
Substitutes, you say? Aisles upon aisles of heavily overpriced food stocked months in advance at your local supermarket? Let’s be honest. We all think it and it’s time someone said it: Pesadich foods stink. It’s like eating cardboard saturated in your least favorite lollipop flavor dripping in cod liver oil. Therefore I pretty much eat matzah three times a day for eight days.
In fact, I manage to consume more carbohydrates when I can’t eat bread or pasta than any other time of the year. And the result? Let me put it this way: A week-long stomachache doesn’t seem like an ideal way to celebrate freedom from bondage.
Am I glad that we got out of Egypt and the bonds of servitude? Of course. Am I thankful for all the miracles God did for us? You bet! But surely there can be a better way to celebrate our freedom than by eating stale crackers, marking late nights of ritual recitation, and suffering an upset digestive tract.
How about painting our doorposts red? That would certainly be festive. Or using the charoset and matzah to build little model Egyptian tombs (I may be on to something — a new counterpart to popsicle-stick Sukkot in the fall)?
I guess that for now I’ll have to make do with holding the afikoman hostage until I feel bad for my tired parents and telling myself “Next year in Jerusalem!” — I’m sure Pesach is more enjoyable in our Holy Land. That is, if I can live through the holiday again this year. I guess that this is the price I pay for freedom.
Gabriela Geselowitz is a junior at Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island.