Matzoh, the Bread of Affliction and Gut-Stoppage, the appearance of which signals the onset of Passover.
Passover is on its way... so close we can practically taste it.
In a certain sense, we can... because the aroma of SWMBO’s wonderful chicken soup has been permeating the house all afternoon, intermingled with the fragrance of braised beef short ribs. Gefilte fish and made-from-scratch chopped liver (with real schmaltz!) are chilling happily in the fridge. There’s chicken tagine and roasted salmon yet to prepare, but I’ll tackle those jobs tomorrow.
Ahhh, Passover. It’s the holiday I associate with some of my sweetest memories... and, at the same time, it is bittersweet. That is on account of its having arrived three days after my mother’s passing, close enough to have forced a premature end to the normal seven-day shiva period of mourning. But I have had twenty-five years to deal with that loss; every year the sweet overcomes the bitter more and more.
It is an eight-day period of modest privation, when everyday foods and beverages - bread! cake! pie! whisky! beer! - are off-limits. No Mexican, Chinese, or Japanese food. No G&T. And yet, we are hardly deprived, thanks to the panoply of traditional Passover foods that graces our tables and packs our kishkes. OK, matzoh ball soup may have become a year-round menu item, thanks to both the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium and the Marietta Diner... but when else do we eat matzoh brei, charoset, matzoh farfel kugel, macaroons, and matzoh meal pancakes? (And don’t even get me started on chocolate- and toffee-covered matzoh. Yow!)
Matzoh gets a bad rap. Yes, it’s dry. Yes, it’s crumbly. It also, famously, has the
She Who Must Be Obeyed makes an excellent chicken and matzoh ball soup... what better use for the freshly sacrificed Paschal Chicken?
We have our festive meals and we recount the story of our deliverance, the Founding Moment of the Jewish people as a distinct nation. We read the Four Questions (“Why is this night different from all other nights?”), the story of the four sons, the account of the ten plagues. We open the door, as much to reassure our Gentile neighbors that there are no secret dastardly rituals taking place as to allow entry to the invisible spirit of Elijah the Prophet. (Yes, there’s history here.) Lacking small children, we no longer have to ransom the afikomen, the broken piece of unleavened bread that closes out the meal... but we remember when we did. And later, in synagogue, we read the Biblical accounts of the Exodus, of the splitting of the sea, of the ancient pilgrimage festivals.
At the same time, we look outside and see the trees exploding into blossomy beauty, pink and white and red punctuated with the yellow of forsythia and the green of new leaves. The great Wheel of Time turns once again, and our little blue gem-like marble of a planet completes another circuit of its unexceptional yellow Sun-star. Life goes on, and we are still here to enjoy it.
If I gotta do without pizza, oatmeal, bagels, Egg McMuffins, or chocolate babka for a few days, that’s a small price to pay. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
For my fellow Red Sea Pedestrians, my heartfelt wishes for a chag kasher v’sameach - a happy, properly observed festival. And for my Christian friends, a meaningful Easter season. It’s all good!