Not keeping kosher in Israel
(Kveller via JTA)—So I’m just going to come right out and say it: We don’t keep kosher for Passover. I feel a bit like a party-pooping high school senior who chooses not to go to the prom revealing that. After all, we moved to Israel to bring our kids up Jewish and live close to our Israeli family. But we are secular Jews and the simple truth is that we pick and choose how we observe in line with our beliefs about what’s important for us and what’s not.
I’ve read on Kveller about how Mayim Bialik makes her Passover meaningful, how Amanda Bradley secretly loves Passover and Tamara Reese’s wonderful ideas to make observance less intimidating. I applaud and respect all those suggestions, opinions and choices. I know that people who observe the holidays from a strong sense of spirituality and tradition get a tremendous amount of nourishment from them. That’s something to envy.
Seventy percent of Israelis will be joining those ladies in banishing the hametz from their homes and digestive systems for the week. But while they will be cleaning, shopping and dusting off their Passover recipe books, puzzling out how to get through this week without bread, pasta and rice, I’ll be chilling out and stocking up on the banned goodies before they perform their annual weeklong disappearing act.
Although we choose not to rid our house of hametz or refrain from eating it, it doesn’t mean we don’t honor or celebrate the holiday; we do. For the past six years I’ve been taking turns hosting the seder—and yes, that part we do without the presence of hametz at the table. We read the Passover Haggadah, we dip our fingers in wine as we recite the plagues, we recline. But mostly we wait for the bit where we can eat the food, sing the songs and let the kids hunt for the afikomen.
In hol hamoed, the week after the seder, Israeli supermarkets hide their wheaty wares on burka-dressed shelves, forbidden to purchasers one and all. Most restaurants keep kosher and the whole country is shrouded in a barbecue fog as Israelis cook up their choice of the tastiest alternative to wheat—meat! We tend to eat at home during this period, delving into our pile of forbidden hametz like thieves. If we feel a little like “outsiders” in the swimming sea of observance, it’s OK.
It’s true in a way that we are choosing all the fun, warm and fuzzy bits of the holiday while ignoring the restrictive, roll-up-your-sleeves challenging parts. As secular Jews, the rules and dogmas of religion don’t play a big role in our lives. I don’t think it makes us any less Jewish—it just makes us less observant. We are still book-loving, family-hugging, charity-giving, kugel-eating Zionists struggling to make it work in our homeland and to find a way that’s meaningful to us.
Even without observing the weeklong prohibition of hametz, my kids still learn about the history of their people at school and from the seder, and they are still laying down traditions to be carried over to their children. They inhale the spirit of the holiday, even if practically we don’t do everything that Exodus commands us to do.
So happy and kosher Passover to those of you who do—and just happy Passover to those of you who don’t. May we always be free to determine our own way.
Nerys Copelovitz lives in Israel, where she is the mother to two teens and a first-grader. You can catch her ruminating on Jewish, Israeli and parenting issues on thoughtfondue.com.