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.
All 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.