Passover Prep, As A Feminist, Can Be Enraging
I’ll confess: Passover is the one holiday that makes me resent being a Jewish woman.
Throughout the rest of the year, I love Jewish womanhood. I love raising a Jewish daughter. Shabbat dinner is a labor of love. Synagogue means dancing and cookies and songs of gratitude. Even Yom Kippur ends in sweet cakes and promises to be a better wife, a better mother, a better Jew, better better better. We are always striving to be better.
But on Passover, I want to give up. How can I pass on a tradition that I viscerally hate? That ignites boiling rage within me? It is this time of the year that being a Jewish woman, and having a traditional Jewish home, starts to feel like too much to carry.
I look around my house and I want to lie down on the floor. I want a bacon double cheeseburger and a Christmas tree and to run screaming barefoot onto the spring grass away away away from this culture that demands every inch of you.
I look at my desk, overflowing with work, writing, volunteering, homemaking, and the thought of cleaning it out and starting fresh feels overwhelming. Tossing out all the food I own, in order to buy overpriced kosher-for-Passover sugar and salt is enraging and wasteful. I don’t want to spend weeks of my life scrubbing on my hands and knees, demanding my family eat those terrible pre-Passover meals where I try to use up all the Chametz in the house, refusing to buy new ingredients that will go to waste so every dish has multiple mismatched grains.
Cleaning and cooking and cleaning and cooking and it’s never quite kosher enough, while my other obligations teem over, like a steaming tea pot screaming at me to take them off the stove.
I want to take the rabbis who made these rules, hold their head between my hands and scream at the top of my lungs. I am furious at how these men, who would never withstand the rigors of modern fatherhood — never mind the demands of Jewish moms like me — are dictating my time. Passover makes me want to assimilate, to fade away.
My husband is wonderful throughout the process. He urges me to calm down, that the world won’t end if there is a crumb under our porch or I don’t scrub out the diaper genie. He approaches me like one does a starving bear at the end of winter, moving slowly with soothing tones. It’s me who has internalized that it must be perfect, must be just so, or I am a bad wife, a bad mother, a bad Jew, unworthy of all of my beautiful family. It’s me who refuses to relax about our level of observance or take a break. He sighs and goes to buy more aluminum foil and a new mop. As progressive and feminist as he is, he can’t help me out of this. It has to come from me.
So if I hate it this much, if I find it this degrading and patriarchal and wasteful — how can I pass this tradition on? As a writer, activist, and volunteer, I work everyday to keep Judaism alive. But when I picture my daughter’s future, I simply cannot find any joy or meaning in her wrapping counters in aluminum foil or sobbing over chametz or up at midnight mopping for the 10th time.
Looking at my young daughter, covered in the chocolate ice cream I let her eat before tossing it out with the rest of the chametz, I think about the women that came before us and what they fought so hard to pass down and keep alive for us . They fought so hard to open doors and break glass ceilings for us? Did they want us to feel like overwhelmed and miserable around what should be our most joyful days? Did they want us to work as hard, to be bent over scrubbing and cooking — while also studying and running for office and making partner and publishing novels and taking over the world? Did they want us carrying so many burdens, all at once? Or did they just look at our toothy grins, our faces covered in chocolate, and want us to love being Jewish?
In my vision of her in the future, she is dancing. Smiling. In love with her culture, her God, herself.
I am realizing that I simply cannot pass on a tradition in which those who had no knowledge of Jewish womanhood or motherhood make enormous demands of me — and I just accept it through gritted teeth. I cannot pass on a tradition that fills me with dread, anxiety, and feminist rage. I want to leave her something better.
So this is where I am, in 5779, a year where American Jewish women are at a breaking point. Where we are frightened, exhausted and fighting as hard as we can. We fight anti-Semitism. We fight assimilation. We fight patriarchy and misogyny. We fight just to stay awake. I fight to deepen my observance as part of my resistance to this horrific moment of global instability, nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. I can’t say how I’ll celebrate Passover every year. But I have thoughts on 5779. I need a break. I think every Jewish woman in America does.
And the last thing I am interested in doing is cleaning with a toothpick between counters.
So this year, I am giving myself a break and I hope you do, too.
Yes, it is a privilege to have the freedom to practice Judaism, yes our existence is resistance – but preserving our sanity is resistance, too. Self care is resistance. Valuing our well-being over the opinions of men from centuries ago — that is resistance. So I absolve myself, and all of you Jewish women readers, who need a damn break this year. Of all years.
This year, I will find some joy. I will drink wine and play music while I clean. I will not shriek at my family about the threat of an errant crumb. I will clean once. Twice max. Not a hundred times. There will be no toothpicks. I will do the best I can, and I will not feel guilt. Any time I feel guilt or anxiety — I will stop and breathe.
When I think about the chain of Jewish mothers and daughters, and what I will pass on, I want to transmit joy to my daughter, above all else — not the sense of bottomless inadequacy. I will not act as though the future of Judaism rests on whether or not there is a microscopic crumb of chametz wedged between refrigerator and the wall. I have a hell of a lot more to give Judaism than my cleaning skills.
I am done with that. I will pass on a smiling, toothy, chocolate-covered Judaism and a model of Jewish womanhood that is at its core, sweet. Perhaps what our mothers wanted to pass on to us, too. Yes, being Jewish is hard. Yes it is full of obligations and sacrifice. But I am going to find my own way to love being Jewish, even in the weeks before Passover.
When my daughter prepares for Passover she will feel joy and happiness – not crippling anxiety, failure and dread. Let that be my legacy.
Carly Pildis is an organizing and advocacy professional living in Washington, DC.