Baking in Mitzrayim

Pandemic Passover sometimes means baking bread

Happy Passover, y’all. It’s my favorite holiday in the Jewish calendar, as I think it is for many people. It’s an opportunity to express gratitude for the freedoms we have and to steel ourselves for the work that is to come.

This year, the fight for freedom is in many ways the same as it has been for centuries: we fight for civil and human rights for all people, for racial and economic justice, for the basic rights and freedoms that are still not granted to so many of our siblings in America and around the world. This year, those lasting inequities are increasingly visible against the stark backdrop of an unprecedented public health crisis. Even in this darkness, I still think about this moment as a time for us to get out of the narrow places of hatred and inequality into the promised land of freedom and liberation for all people.

In the Passover story, the Israelites carried matzah with them out of Egypt because they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. They knew that Pharaoh’s promise might not last, and they wanted to escape before he changed his mind.

But this Passover, all I can think about is waiting.

The people I love are so impossibly far away, fighting the same battles that I am fighting, and the things that I so desperately want to do (hug them, kiss them, hold them, look into their eyes) are the very things that I can’t do. I wait to see them again, months from now, in a very different world.

So we wait. We wait for a cure, a lapse, a break from the pressure and agony of living in a world where stepping outside of our front doors feels like going to war. I wait to see if next month will be the last one I spend in isolation. I wait for the moment when we all fall out of this surreal alternate universe and look up at a sky that is brighter and more vivid than we remember. I wait, music playing loudly in my headphones, to hear music in community again.

I have done all of the classic things during this pandemic: I am constantly on Zoom calls, I am working from home…I even dyed my hair blue.

But even in this moment, I have found things to celebrate. I’m celebrating the people who I talk to every day, whether I see them in person (in my home), or via FaceTime, or even through all-day text conversations. I’m celebrating the things that are getting me through: movies, books, TV shows, tabletop role-playing games, and, let’s be honest, my phone. I’m celebrating the food I cook, the cocktails I enjoy, the rounds of Cabo I play. Most of all, I’m celebrating waiting.

I know that it’s counter-intuitive. Waiting, at surface level, is no fun. Waiting can be painful. There is great privilege inherent in my ability to think of this time as “waiting”  – because not everyone has that same luxury

Celebrating waiting means celebrating this moment, in all its complexity and uncertainty, all its pain and promise. In his essay “Walking,” Thoreau talks about “the gospel according to this moment,” this idea that we must find meaning in the present rather than waiting for some ideal future that we may never see.

If it hurts to think about, I’m sorry. Here’s a playlist to help you find the celebration and optimism in waiting.

It also isn’t lost on me that we are celebrating the birthday of the great poet of isolation, Samuel Beckett, during this Passover. We are all just tramps on the roadside waiting for something that will never come, are we not? “Who, or what, is Godot?” asks the Guardian‘s David Smith. “Whatever you want it to be.”

The author and the results of a particularly active bulk fermentation

So maybe to find meaning this year, I need to make this moment different – and that’s why I’ve been spending Passover baking bread. 

Loaves and loaves and loaves of bread.

Sourdough focaccia, sourdough crackers, sourdough biscuits. Carrot cake. Cookies. More bread. The kneading is meditative, yes, but the real zen moment comes during the final proof: when you shape the loaves and leave them, sometimes for 16 or more hours, to rise before putting them in the oven. What do you do during that time? You listen to music, you dance in the rain, you call your mom on the phone, you stare listlessly at the ceiling, you sleep, you eat, you wait. You celebrate waiting.

Sometimes, on the other side of that last proof, that last fermentation, the loaf doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. The crumb is the wrong texture, or the crust isn’t chewy enough, or the flavors aren’t as complex as you’d like. So you start again. You feed your sourdough starter and wait, and then you knead the dough, and wait, and proof the loaves, and wait. Over and over and over again until something else happens.

This is a reminder that nothing is promised. That we have to fight every day for the world we want to see. That we have to fight, knowing that the world we work for will not come in our lifetimes.

So like Miriam, I am dancing on the shores of the Red Sea. And unlike the Jews who escaped Egypt, I am waiting for bread to rise.

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