As a relative newlywed, I’ve encountered a number of firsts. First time being addressed as “Mrs.” First time filing joint tax returns. First time seeing the MLB package on the cable bill. And last year I had another first — splitting up the days of Passover to spend time with both my family and my husband’s family. After several weeks of strategizing, we decided the best way to manage it was to go to my parents, who are local, for the seders, and then fly to Florida to meet up with his family for the end of the holiday.
My husband and I come from completely different planets. Our life experiences are vastly dissimilar, and our Passover experiences are no exception. For me, Passover was, and is, a home holiday — using special dishes, inviting friends and family to the seders, and perusing the ads for exotic Passover vacations, wondering what kind of people go there. His family are those people. They close up their house for a week, head to the airport, and enjoy their matzah on the beach.
Growing up, Passover prep began weeks before the holiday. There were dozens of shopping trips where we loaded up on supplies and purchased an unfathomable number of eggs, engaged in meticulous cleaning, covered counters, and eventually took out those special dishes used only a few days a year.
My mother carries the bulk of this burden, preparing all the food, finding the newest gimmicky Pesach-dik product (last year’s winner was the alarmingly pareve “Mac and Cheeze”), and even making sure there are enough leftovers for my siblings and I to take home to get us through chol hamoed.
Managing the Passover restrictions during those intermediate days is another challenge. Eating matzah and cream cheese at work is part of the holiday tradition. It’s a difficult process, but I couldn’t have imagined it any other way.
Until I got married.
My husband’s family has rarely experienced chol hamoed in the real world, nor do they look for fresh ways to cook with potato starch, or even comb the house to remove every crumb.
They recreate the Exodus in a different way — by escaping to a warm-weather destination with masses of fellow Jews. Their hassle is a bit different than the one I’m used to. Theirs involves making it to the airport on time and securing an appointment for a massage at the perennially overbooked hotel spa.
I have to admit it’s a truly amazing concept. Families of all levels of religious observance have their food and religious services taken care of and their days filled with sun, activities, and even a camp to keep the kids entertained.
And then there’s the food. My first meal there was a five-course, gourmet, kosher-for-Passover wonder. If it weren’t for the boxes of matzah on the table, you wouldn’t have known it was Pesach. Lunch the next day was a buffet that would have put the most lavish wedding smorgasbord to shame. Each successive meal I was fuller and fuller, yet never disappointed. Omelet and crèpe (crèpe?!) stations at breakfast; matzah pizzas and pasta (pasta?!) salads for lunch; extravagant meats, pastries, and “rolls” that tasted suspiciously like real bread for dinner.
Beyond that, there is a phenomenon at most Passover programs known as The Tea Room. The Tea Room is filled with various drinks, candy, and just about every dessert you could fathom. The quantities in The Tea Room are practically endless and it’s open virtually every waking hour. My husband’s family looked at me as if I had six heads when I questioned the need to go to a room full of snacks immediately after our Shabbat dinner feast. It’s a far cry from me digging up a piece of Bazooka gum or leftover sponge cake at my parents’ home.
Sure, the hotel ran out of Diet Coke, the complimentary tote bag ripped two days in, and I got a mild sunburn, but still I don’t think our ancestors would sympathize with this level of suffering. On the other hand, my husband probably felt like a slave during the first days of the holiday at my parents’ home. His Exodus couldn’t come soon enough.
You can’t beat the weather, the pool, the spa, the food — but for me, there was something missing. It didn’t feel like Passover. There is a feeling that is real and thrilling about the cleaning, sealing the cabinets, and even figuring out the measurements of matzah meal to substitute in recipes. These challenges connect me to this holiday like no other, stirring up memories and a sense of purpose, as well as a bond to Jewish history.
Of course, if the opportunity arose, my mother would tell me to shut up and book the tickets to Florida. Why spend weeks scrubbing and cooking when you can hop on a plane to the Promised Land?