When I was younger, I was never too excited for Passover. Eight days of no bread?! How would I survive? Later, in my teenage years, I used eight days of no bread and other kitniyot as a means of being on a diet. But the past few years, I have come to appreciate how important Passover is to me, and my identity as a Russian Jew.
Last year, Passover fell on eight days I was traveling in Australia and New Zealand. Most people that lived in the area of Australia I was studying in, had barely heard of Passover, and I could not find a store that sold matzo anywhere nearby. The last few days of Passover were spent traveling through New Zealand in a camper van, so I took to eating mostly vegetables and eggs over the course of the holiday. It was far from easy, especially when all my friends around me were eating anything they wanted, but I did my best to stick with the laws and traditions my family had fought to uphold for so long.
Decades ago in Russia, my family celebrated Passover in a very different way than they do now. There was no cleaning the house of hametz and gathering together over a formal Seder dinner because they were not fully aware of all the traditions and rituals of Passover. Family and friends gathered together but there was no reading of the Haggadah about the exodus of the Jewish people, asking of the Four Questions by the youngest child, or searching for the afikoman.
Instead, my grandparents had to wait on a long line in the blistering cold just to get a box of matzo. My family still ate bread and all of the other things we now don’t eat or touch for eight days, but there were certain recipes that my grandmother whipped up only during that time of the year. One of the ones that has been carried on in our family is the tzimus. This was made from shredded carrots, raisins, and honey. While not a traditional food to eat during Passover, this appetizer held a deep meaning for my family when Passover came around. Jewishness still ran through their veins, no matter how observant they were during Passover.
The rituals and symbolic foods of the Seder touch on themes of slavery and freedom. Similarly, the blessing my family is now able to take on my keeping Passover in a more traditional way than they did in Russia, symbolizes their escape from the Soviet Union to the freedom of the United States. With a better understanding of what Passover means to me and my family, whether in Russia, Australia, or the U.S., I know that we must keep up the theme and be thankful for the freedom we now have to celebrate Passover in all its symbolic beauty.
Rashel Noginsky, 22, whose family emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is studying at Cornell University.