Top 10 Reasons Passover Is the Favorite Holiday of American Jews
It has been said—not only by researchers, but also by my grandmother and her five sisters in Miami—that Passover is the favorite holiday of American Jews. As Passover comes to a close this year (by nightfall, Saturday), I’d like to reflect on why this is so.
1. Passover is centered around a big meal. This addresses two key facts: We eat a lot and we get cranky if we can’t. A serious fast like Ramadan isn’t on the table; the kvetching gets serious after just two hours on Yom Kippur. In fact, Yom Kippur is so stressful we have to end it by furiously tearing apart enormous platters of lox, herring and cookies with sprinkles that have been covered with plastic since the Destruction of the Second Temple.
2. Passover requires only the slimmest degree of privation. Those who keep Passover have to go a week without leavening. That’s it! Well, if you’re serious about it, you’ll also forgo barley, rye, spelt and oats, and some people give up millet too, but that’s almost Orthodox already. Basically, have you tried Atkins? It’s the Atkins diet for a week—plus matzo. You might lose weight!
3. But it’s still enough privation to complain about. Keeping Passover can be a dramatic event if you’re so inclined. You can put your matzo lunch into a clear Ziploc baggie, and when your non-Jewish workmates are eating Burger King or hoagies, you can bring out your crumbling, oddly shaped “sandwich” and groan. “Oy, I can’t believe this is all I can eat for six more days!” If someone asks why you’re keeping the holiday, say something noble about sacrifice. Then crunch.
4. It’s an opportunity for intercultural understanding. Keeping Passover publicly also allows for a new take on the holiday’s Four Questions—these from your non-Jewish friends: 1) Does matzo really taste like cardboard? 2) Where do you buy it? 3) How do you say/spell it? 4) Why wasn’t Charlton Heston eating it in The Ten Commandments?
5. Passover makes suffering real. True, the dietary restrictions don’t bring home the agony of Jewish slavery, but a Seder—that’ll do it every time. There’s always someone who reads too slow. There are relatives who roll their eyes the whole time to show how cool-Jew they are. There’s the wafting, nauseating smell of the hardboiled egg on the Seder plate, and the crusty, denuded lamb shank—an object that, if you spotted it on the ground, would suggest a mountain lion was in the area. There’s the agonizing wait to drink the tiniest drop of wine, and what seems like years in the desert between you and a matzo ball. And then there’s the family member who decides to talk about Israel—because everyone knows if you get 15 American Jews in a room and bring up the Middle East, it makes for a delightfully unfettered evening.
6. Passover is not Hanukkah. Yes, Passover is inferior to Easter, as Jon Stewart proved so well this week. That’s okay. The real Christian cultural onslaught culminates—after months of hype, like it’s a Harvey Weinstein pic—with Christmas. Sometime before December 25th, we Jews put candles in a candelabra and light them, backwards. We do that for eight days, while outside, happy, pink-cheeked carolers sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Passover is better than Hanukkah by a lot.
7. Passover is not Sukkot. Taking into account the issue of discomfort and privation discussed above, the need to spend so much time in an outdoors hut—Jewish camping, basically—ruins Sukkot for many of us. There will never be enough tick spray on the planet for the number of Jews who are nervous about observing Sukkot. Passover is indoors.
8. The 10 plagues. One of the best parts of the Seder is when you stick your finger into your wineglass to get a drop of wine to then drip onto your white paper plate to symbolize a plague. Is this fun, or what? You do it 10 times to memorialize the 10 plagues our benevolent God brought upon the Egyptians when they were being super stubborn about the Jews. You’d be amazed by the number of children’s games designed to teach the 10 plagues. And you wonder why all Jews are in therapy.
9. Elijah. Christianity has a lot of rock stars. The main one is Jesus, of course, but Santa counts too. Who do we have? God? Big deal. Everyone’s got God. But on Passover, we have our own rock star—the prophet Elijah—and he’s such a huge sensation, he never even shows up. Which is for the best because we can then imagine him however we like, and trick our small cousins into thinking he looks like Axl Rose.