Keren David

I'm Pesach Pollyanna - why I love the festival

Keren David loves Pesach - the traditions, the food and especially having her family around her

April 17, 2019 15:19

Jessica is the Pesach Grinch, and I am whatever the opposite of a Grinch is. The Pesach Grin? A Passover Pollyanna ? Because although I know it’s the done thing to moan non stop about Pesach (the work! the matzah! the menu planning!), I find there’s as much to love about the festival as there is to complain about.

When I say Pollyanna, of course, I mean the heroine of  Eleanor H Porter’s eponymous novel of 1913, in which our heroine is glad about everything including a pair of crutches as a Christmas present. Eventually her optimism dies, when she loses the use of her legs, but she rallies and becomes glad again at the thought of how useful her legs were when she had them. This is a useful role model when you dream about spaghetti during the chol hamoed.

For me, it’s about making Pesach at home.  The idea of paying a fortune to stay at some kosher hotel doesn’t appeal at all and nor does the idea of skipping the whole thing with a trip to India or Peru.  It’s harder to celebrate at home, of course, but hard work makes memories. And Pesach’s charm comes from the way that every little bit of it feels intensely personal.

Yes, it takes some effort changing my kitchen over. And I’m lucky to have a six foot son to schlep the boxes out of the the garden shed. But I quite enjoy  making  everything clean and fresh — cleaning’s fun if you have loud music playing in the background. I love getting out my Pesach  plates and bowls — mostly  zingy bright plastics. They bring back memories of our old home in Amsterdam, where I bought them, and they  serve as a herald of spring time.  I even have some Pesach mugs adorned with daffodils.

So many of my Pesach things remind me of the people who gave them to us, or passed them on.  The cutlery was Grandma’s, some mugs were a gift from my friends Laura and Ian who came all the way from Atlanta to stay with us for Pesach 2001. And the memories come thick and fast when the changeover is done and I start cooking for the chag. My  mother- in-law would come and stay every year, and from her I have my techniques for frying fish and (an annual treat) making chips. As a former dinner lady, chips were her speciality. And her signature Pesach traybake — coconutties — bring back happy memories with every  cup of tea.

The seder table, similarly, has extra ghostly guests, those we’ve lost, while at the same time it lays the foundation for the future. Hearing generations singing together brings tears to my eyes ( not just because some of my menfolk can’t sing in tune).   My husband isn’t a big fan of shul,  so when he leads the seder it’s a  big statement of his Jewishness. And a service which blends history, theatre, religion, politics and music — as well as symbolism and food — covers many of the things that we’re passionate about as a family. 

My haggadah  alone would make Pesach my favourite festival. It’s an archeological edition, dating from the 1960s, with pictures of Egyptian friezes showing princesses in shift dresses; stone-carved idols and Sinai landscapes, camels and baby quail. It never fails to fascinate. 

As for the rest of the festival — well, obviously  the creative possibilities of menu –planning wear thin  around day five, when I’ve done everything it’s possible to do with eggs and potatoes. 

But that’s the point really. The experience of feeling  limited in your choices and tied to home and  the grumpiness  that ensues offer a tiny glimmer of enslavement — just enough to help you realise how utterly, overwhelmingly terrible it would be to feel completely constrained forever.  As Succot gives a gentle taster of life as a migrant, so Pesach — as it drags on and on — nudges us towards an understanding of the importance and value of freedom. (Again, Pollyanna and her legs come to mind. And I'm glad to say she learns to walk again by the end of the book) 

It’s an emotional, immersive experience, and  I’m grateful for it. And at the end — I’m so glad to have everything back to normal.

Disagree? Find out why Jessica Weinstein thinks eight days of Pesach is too much

April 17, 2019 15:19

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