A COVID-19 Pesach
My first Passover was pretty uneventful, I deep-cleaned my kitchen and followed the ways. Never wait a lifetime to convert, you just don’t know when they’ll be a global pandemic starting the same month.
Next year in Jerusalem, you say? For me next year anywhere but alone in quarantine.
So, cheers to public Seders. Like the one in Kathmandu which may have been the largest in the world, according to organizers. Hopefully we get a chance to add to their numbers sooner than later.
Or, Passover 2021 with the Tunisian Jews who make a pilgrimage to the El Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia. Located five hundred kilometers south of Tunis, it is believed to date back almost 1,900 years making it Africa’s oldest continuously used synagogue.
Perhaps next year with this two kids? They were two of two hundred new immigrants from Ethiopia celebrating their first Passover in Israel at the Jewish Agency Absorption Center in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, in 2010. Meaning that these two boys are actually now young men.
What about next year with the extraordinary Gilberte Levy in Carpentras in northern Provence. A centre of Jewish life since 1306, Carpentras has a superb koshered French culinary tradition. Levy is seen here posing with a whole breast of veal stuffed with Swiss chard, a classic regional centerpiece, made kosher for Passover.
Levy will serve it with a 13th-century recipe for Haroseth made of dried apricots, figs, raisins and chestnuts, that has been a staple in her family. I would be delighted to join her in 2021. Or anytime, seriously, her food looks amazing. See more of Levy’s story and photos on the New York Times website.
Let’s talk about cultural rules and dietary restrictions, shall we?
Pork is the obvious no-no. And the first thing that a surprising number of people asked me was not if I was going to keep a kosher kitchen but if I was going to give up bacon. I gave up the bacon. And I follow the rules of kashrut in my home and when I am out. But it’s more complicated than that. There are cultural elements to dietary restrictions that sit a little ambiguously when you join a religion and not a particular culture.
For example: if I were from a Sephardic family, say, from North Africa or the Iberian Peninsula, I would most likely eat rice, millet, and legumes at Passover. This is a culturally recognized allowance within a broader religious framework.
Now, if I were born into a German, Russian, or, for the most part, an American Jewish family, I would not eat any hametz at Passover. For the past 700 years, Ashkenazi Jews would never eat kitniyot (the forbidden rice, millet, and legumes of the season), although just fine for those of Spanish or Moroccan descent. That changed in December 2015, at least within the Conservative movement, when the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards decided that kitniyot is now permitted on Passover, meaning that regardless of your family’s cultural ties, all backgrounds in the Conservative Movement were on the same page.
However, after 700 years, how many Conservative Jews actually adopted the change?
As for converts, there are cultural observations that are essential to Judaism and it may not be obvious. But picking and choosing from a cultural buffet for recipes is one thing, but slicing and dicing religious observances that have distinct cultural touchstones and reasons may just be a problematic path.