There Is No Turning Back

There are three boxes of Streit’s Passover 100% Whole Wheat Matzos on my kitchen counter. I don’t eat bread during Passover. I don’t eat any chametz (wheat, barley, spelt, oats or rye) for the eight days of the holiday. I’m not particularly observant, but eating matzo and creating a queer/feminist seder help me feel connected to my heritage and to other people who are struggling to be free.

The rule to “eat matzoh but nothing else made from flour” makes sense to me. My parents explained that we made matzo because we (the ancient Jews) were fleeing persecution and didn’t have the luxury of letting the bread dough rise and baking it in an oven. Once Moses set foot in the Red Sea there was no turning back. I understood it symbolically, but I wished that matzo tasted like a pancake instead of a burnt cracker.

Up until this year, I also didn’t eat kitniyot during Passover. Kitniyot are a subgroup of foods that include rice, corn, beans, lentils, and peas. For 800 years, Ashkenazi Jews (from France, Germany, and Eastern Europe) were expected to follow this additional prohibition. Sephardic Jews (from the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, and the Middle East ) never adopted the restriction on kitniyot.

The ban on kitniyot never made sense to me. It meant that during Passover my mother hid the peanut butter and all the candy made with corn syrup. All because the rabbi said not to eat it.

The Reform Judaism movement lifted the ban on kitniyot when it was founded (in 1810). The Israeli Conservative movement lifted the ban in 1988, and the US Conservative movement only at the end of 2015.  Lifting a ban is not the same as commanding one to eat it; it is an individual decision whether to abstain or to continue with an inscrutable tradition. The Orthodox follow the tradition.

This is the first year I’ve purposefully eaten corn, rice, or beans during Passover. Still, when I was pulling together the dinner menu for our first night seder, I cooked without them. Over the weekend I had puffed rice for breakfast. It felt vaguely criminal, as if I was breaking all the rules, or cheating on an exam.

The first time you break the rule is the hardest. If you are lucky, you break it enough and it starts to feel right. Then you forget there was, or is, a rule prohibiting it.

On Saturday, while still slightly hung over from the four cups of wine at seder, I went shopping at Paragon Sports for a new pair of swim trunks. Last summer was the first summer I let myself wear board shorts and a rash guard to the beach. While I had some self-conscious moments, it was an amazing improvement compared to wearing a women’s racerback Speedo. I had no dysphoria. I gave away my women’s swimsuits. There is no turning back. I decided to treat myself to a splashier pair of trunks.

I could have shopped online. The advantage of shopping at Paragon Sports is that they have a big selection, all of the men’s and women’s suits are displayed in the same showroom, and there is an all gender dressing room. The disadvantage is that the sales help work on commission and can be pushy. I collected five nice pairs of blue patterned trunks before a saleswoman came up to me and asked “Are these for you?” I responded that they were and that I was ready to try them on. She wanted to know what I was planning to wear them with (hoping she could sell me a two piece women’s suit to go with it). I firmly told her that I was just shopping for trunks to go with last year’s navy blue rash guard. She unlocked a dressing room for me.

butch-boardshortsAll of the trunks fit, although they didn’t all look good on me. The best, and least expensive, was a pair of eponymous Trunks with a hibiscus pattern. The saleswoman put her commission sticker on it and tried to sell me a tankini top to go with it. I declined and told her I didn’t need any tops. There is no turning back.

Last year the beach. This year the beach, a hot springs, a lake, and a swimming pool.

Notes: Even though I don’t like matzo, Streit’s is my favorite brand. Until recently it was manufactured on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a decrepit tenement. Streit’s moved to Orangeburg, New York; about an hour north of the city. This article from the New York Times describes their decision to relocate. Donna and I went to see a documentary about Streit’s – you can watch the trailer on YouTube here. 

8 thoughts on “There Is No Turning Back

  1. PlainT

    We grew up eating kitniot in my house. Nowadays we only even eat loosely kosher at the seder, but we’ll have bread with ham and cheese for breakfast the next morning.

    But I remember the first time I ever broke kashrut: I was at Whole Foods with my parents and brother, and there were free samples of teddy grahams. I grabbed one and put it in my mouth, forgetting to wonder why it tasted so good. My brother saw and gasped: “What are you doing?!” It took me a second to realize I was eating something non-kosher, and a wave of dread washed over me. He smiled and in typical “cool older brother” form, said: “I’m just teasing, eat whatever you want.” I still kept kosher for several years, but that first break from the rules was when I started to question why we did it.

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  2. Jamie Ray Post author

    My grandmother (born in Poland) was raised keeping Kosher 24/7 but eventually she started to keep “kosher style”. My mother cooked the way her mother did – and our Passover observance was also “kosher style” we didn’t use separate Passover dishes and us kids drank milk at every meal (no pork or shellfish though – except in restaurants).
    The inconsistencies were obvious even as a child – but I continued to eat according to the Conservative rulings through the holidays that way – it didn’t really bother me until about day 5 when I got really tired of Matzo and would make snide comments about how it only took 20 minutes to cook rice in the desert. I was very happy this year when I realized I could go to a Mexican restaurant and hit the kitniyot trifecta -corn tortillas, rice, and beans!

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  3. mostcurious

    There is no turning back. That hits home for me right now. I bought two binders and kept two bras for three weeks, and then the bras went in the trash (they were totally worn to tatters; I’ve always hated buying bras.) While I’m still on the fence about the trauma of surgery and the time off work, deep down I know I’m going to go through with it. There is no turning back.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      You will know when you are ready. I was on the fence until I had a consultation with a surgeon and then I knew absolutely for sure it was what I wanted. I’d already had knee surgery, fibroid surgery, and a hysto – so I knew what I was getting myself into for surgery – that did make it less scary.
      If you like how you look in a binder, and can find a binder that is comfortable enough to wear, then there is absolutely no rush forward, but also no turning back.

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  4. Fredrication

    The things we do out of habit… It’s strange how much we are affected by traditions -wether it’s clothes or foods.
    There aren’t a lot of Jews where I live, so I just have vaguely knowledge of Jewish traditions. Thank you for enlighten me and expand my horizons beyond the sixth grade book in religion!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      New York is diverse, with probably every religion and ethnicity represented somewhere in the city. I forget that many places are much more homogeneous. I didn’t learn about other religions in school – the public schools in NYC were “non-secular” but the default for everything was generic Protestant (Christmas, Easter, etc.). I was lucky to have friends from different backgrounds and I learned about holidays at their house (Greek Orthodox, Hindi, Muslim, and Orthodox Jewish),

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      1. Fredrication

        The only religion I met as a child other than Swedish state church Protestantism was Catholicism. But we learn about the five big world-religions, nature religions and a few sub-groups in school. But textbook learning is not the same as meeting, talking and socializing with people of other believes and traditions than your own.
        Thankfully we live in a much more diverse society now and I’m happy to know that my daughter will have friends of different faiths and traditions!

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  5. Liam

    I really, really don’t like matzos, so I hide them in all sorts of fancy (or not-so-fancy) dishes. We always have matzo lasagna on the first night of passover. I made it twice this year, and all of it got eaten, as always.

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