Can’t Pass on Passover

Passover is right around the horn, and if you are Jewish or are friends with people who are Jewish, you know that this at once joyous and somber holiday can be a bit intense. Cleaning out the chametz, trying to find “Kosher for Passover” toothpaste, trying to get your kids to read the haggadah, going through the, you know, just a few steps of the seder… it can get a bit complicated, especially if you are devoted to following the traditions to a tee. At the same time, like many Jewish holidays, Pesach is a time for family, mindful eating, stories, appreciation of the natural world, and, of course, accountability to one’s community.

For more insight into this topic, I had a chat with Hannah Cohanim, President of the Jewish Student Union (JSU), about matzah-hunting, telling goyishe professors you’re missing class for a Jewish holiday, and the relationship between the size of a Jewish community and recognition of holidays.

“When you think the Jewish holidays, they’re all about how we were oppressed and how we have suffered, but they all definitely have a happy-ish theme to them. It’s a link between sadness and celebration. I think we focus a lot on the negative and turn it into a positive.”

Many bosses and professors, however, haven’t really caught on to this. It can be hard to get more support and understanding than a begrudged one-time pass to miss class for seder… and Passover is for a whole week (if you’re not including Omer).

“I don’t know how we can be expected to put our beliefs aside and go to class or take an exam. It’s like having to make a choice between which is more important,” Cohanim said.
“I do have to pick and choose which ones I go to for a variety of reasons, like realistically how much class can I afford to miss.”

It may be a little easier to celebrate Passover this year since it partly coincides with Easter Break. Often, however, regular work and school days land on Jewish holidays, and, unlike with Christian holidays, there is a severe lack of understanding among Gentiles that makes it difficult for a lot of Jewish folks to express and celebrate their Jewishness.

“I feel like the Jewish community is supported, but it’s definitely small. It really depends on how large the Jewish community is in your area and how well it will be… not acknowledged, but how it will be represented,” she said.

Passover, however, is one holiday that many Jews either don’t compromise on, or make work with their other obligations. Since Passover is largely centered around family, there’s not a ton of time spent at synagogue for many denominations, which might take one thing off the seder plate to focus on. There’s a Passover tradition of hiding a piece of Matzah for kids (or, honestly, adults) to find and get a prize for. Cohanim said this is her favorite part of Passover.

“I really like when all the kids get together, all the adults get together, sit down, have dinner, and hide the matzah and have the kids find it,” she said. “It’s like the one time they all have the same goal and there’s some sort of incentive, even if it’s, ‘oh, you get a hug!” or some people give money…. It’s just that whole family feel to the Sedar that’s one of the best parts.”

The editor may be reached at
[email protected]