Growing up in an observant Jewish home, I approached each Passover of my youth with a mix of excitement and dread. I looked forward to having time off from school, staying up past my bedtime on Seder nights, eating my Aunt Linda’s seven-layer matzah chocolate cake, and guarding my matzah pizza (from both hungry siblings and flames) as it cooked in our family’s rickety toaster oven. Even sillier aspects of the holiday—like the absurd amount of eggs we would go through in a week and my father’s theatrical afikoman-hiding ritual—made Passover what it was, and made me eager for its annual arrival.
But I always dreaded the inevitable spring cleaning Passover would bring. I hated the way our kitchen grew steamy as my mother poured boiling water over the countertops, and the way my parents used Passover as an excuse to make me throw away my beloved (albeit shabby) clothes and toys. To me, a naïve and lazy young kid, I simply couldn’t understand why my favorite holiday had to be accompanied by such a thorough and obnoxious cleaning.
Now, as a less observant Jew and a single, young adult, I don’t stay up any later than usual on Seder nights and I don’t risk destroying the countertops and floors of my rental apartment with a scalding, deep clean. My Passover traditions have changed, and the holiday has therefore taken on new meaning. Much like I did as a child, I still look forward to the food, family, and free time that Passover brings, and I trust that this will never change. But what has changed is my understanding of and attitude towards the Passover spring cleaning.
To anyone familiar with the story of Exodus, the message of Passover is clear: we must stand up against injustice, and fight for freedom and equality. I am choosing to use this message—not my parents’ customs—as the inspiration for how I will clean for and celebrate Passover this year. If we already use Passover as an opportunity to clean our homes, why not connect this tradition to the message of the holiday, and also use this time to recommit to fighting for freedom and justice? What if, during Passover, we not only clean our homes, but also work with others to “clean”—change, strengthen, and better—our communities?
It is in this spirit that I will celebrate my first Passover working at Jewish Community Action and will attend my first Immigrant Freedom Seder. This coming Sunday, March 17, we at JCA will come together with hundreds of allies and friends from diverse communities, celebrate both ancient and recent triumphs in the pursuit of justice, and rededicate ourselves to the work ahead. I will approach this event with all the fervor I lacked for the Passover spring cleanings of my childhood, because now, as a Jewish young adult with a passion for social justice, I see that these cleanings can be about so much more than countertops. And, as a result, for the first time in my life, I am nothing but excited for Passover.
If you're excited, too, please join me at the Seder.