Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Is there any topic more Jewish than food? I feel like a pretty strong argument can be made that food is one of our most unifying obsessions– even when we don’t eat the same foods. It’s something I think about a lot. I don’t keep kosher, but I do eat quite mindfully; my culinary considerations are an ongoing part of my Jewish identity. It’s a subject I explored in one of the earliest Southern & Jewish blog posts. But there’s one week of the year when I do entirely overhaul my eating practices, and follow Jewish-food-rules far more closely: Passover.
Passover means a makeover for our meals. As Passover approaches, my husband and I go on a carb binge. We eat as much as we can of the pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, and other chametz-products we have in our kitchen. Then, whatever is left before the holiday begins, we sequester into one area of home. We tape it off (this year, my husband added a hand-lettered sign, which reads phonetically in Hebrew: NOPE!). We stock up on matzah meal, Tam Tam crackers, macaroons, and more. We prepare for a week of lots of salads, soups, proteins sans breading and creative matzah-based meal experiments. We love seder celebrations, of course; but despite our otherwise mostly-vegetarian-but-not-kosher lifestyle, that’s not where it stops. We don’t just enjoy the seder and then move on; we change our diet for the full run of the holiday.
More than once, I’ve been asked — why?
After all, if we don’t usually follow any sort of strict Jewish dietary code… why not just mark Passover with a fun seder, and then eat bagels the next day?
Well. My first response is my least logical one — eating bagels during Passover would just feel weird. I was raised observing Passover, bringing matzah-pizza ingredients over to friends’ home for movie nights during the holiday and having all sorts of conversations around why I wasn’t eating the regular pizza while we watched Indiana Jones, leading to a rousing chorus of “Why Is This Movie Night Different From All Other Movie Nights?”
But on a deeper level, I avoid chametz on Passover because it connects me to the celebration, and to everyone else celebrating. Even if I’m still not as strict in my observance, I’m observing. The themes of freedom and redemption and justice that sing through this holiday resonate for me. Giving up the carbs I love for a week to pay tribute to how grateful I am for the freedom I enjoy the rest of the year to live where I want, eat what I want, love who I want– it’s a small token, and one that brings big meaning.
Also, as someone who has almost always lived in small towns — there’s something thrilling about seeing Manischewitz bottles and Streit’s boxes hit the shelves in my local grocery stores. I buy them to help keep that annual re-stocking going, for my fellow Passover-celebrants.
I know my household is not the only one out there that observes some level of Passover rules while allowing their meat and milk to mix otherwise. It’s complicated, the various ways we all connect with tradition, or adopt new traditions, and make meaning in our lives. But we are making meaning, and celebrating our heritage, and the chance to clean and re-set, to share in the same sort of meals Jewish families are eating near and far, and to honor freedom by finding our own way is part of my own Jewish life for which I am deeply grateful.
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Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order”; usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)