Kosher for Easter: The Plight of the Italian-American Jewess

So I’m a new Jew. I was raised Roman Catholic by an Italian mother from North Jersey – I was fed pasta in lieu of formula. When it comes to the six main food groups, the three most important are … Read More

By / April 8, 2009

So I’m a new Jew. I was raised Roman Catholic by an Italian mother from North Jersey – I was fed pasta in lieu of formula. When it comes to the six main food groups, the three most important are pasta, bread, and macaroni & cheese.

In my journey to become better versed in Jewish practice, I’ve tried to reconcile a lot of ideas in my head. I was never raised particularly religious, so dropping the act of going through the motions in the Catholic Church was never a big deal to me. Getting into the habit of Friday night worship competing with plans made by those who pray on Sunday mornings has become manageable as well. I’ve learned lingo and proper behavior, I’ve learned a little Hebrew, and I’ve learned the best way to prove my dedication to Jewish culture. But some things have been harder than others.

Keeping kosher isn’t something I feel I’m capable of adhering to just yet. I see it more as a twelve-step process. I grew up on Genoa salami sandwiches and live for summers at the shore where I can get a fabulous chicken cheese steak. I can’t just give it all up cold turkey – all food puns aside. And so I’ve resigned myself to dealing with the idea of kosher in the future; I have other ideals to work on in the meantime.

Something I’m okay to start out with, however, is keeping kosher for Passover. It’s only eight days – totally manageable, right? Except when you realize the only foods you eat are either chametz or kitniyot.

I breathe in bread. By virtue of growing up a picky eater, I was raised on a diet solely consisting of pasta, pizza, and macaroni & cheese. And by virtue of being a busy college student in a tiny dormitory kitchen, my default meals are as follows: pasta, rice, macaroni & cheese, rice & beans, gnocchi, breaded chicken, and the occasional black bean burrito. Seriously. I snack on crackers, pretzels, cookies, and goldfish. Nothing that I eat on a regular basis immediately strikes me as kosher for Passover, with the possible exception of chocolate pudding. Surely it can’t be this hard for "normal" Jews.

Last year was my first year observing Jewish holidays and I tried really hard to avoid chametz. I failed, of course. General Tso’s chicken is not kosher for Passover, in case you, too, were wondering. I made egg noodles one night thinking I could get away with it since the package said Manischewitz, but they weren’t of the "Passover Gold" variety and again, I failed. Finally, on the eighth day, my mother happened to be visiting me in the city for dinner. She, not currently practicing, was completely indifferent to avoiding major carb sources and selected our favorite Italian restaurant for dinner. It was two hours before sunset, but there was no way I was passing up penne a la vodka on Mom’s dime.

I’m determined to be better this year, but I’ve hit another snag: Easter. Coming from a multi-religious background is fun because there’s always something to celebrate – except when you have to celebrate two different things at the same time. I have no problem avoiding the Easter ham – I never liked ham anyway. But how can I turn down an Italian feast of every imaginable kind of chametz for a once-a-year celebration with my family? And most importantly, how can I say no to Easter bread? It’s only once a year that this traditional Italian sweet bread rises in the oven, and as one of my fondest memories of my grandma Sadie (z”l), I hesitate to let the season pass without enjoying it. (See, I made you feel guilty there, didn’t I? Catholic Jewish Italian guilt is a deadly weapon.)

So I’ve made a decision: kosher for Passover except on Easter. Will God smite me for this? I sure hope not. But as someone who values religion on a cultural level as a way to bring people together, I can’t see why distancing myself from my family by nibbling on matzo at the Easter dinner table can really make anyone happy. I’ll pass on pasta from now through Saturday, as hard as it may be, and pretend those dozen H&H bagels aren’t staring me in the face all next week, but as far as Easter goes, it’s "pass the chametz" for me!


Cross posted on The Jew and the Carrot.

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