While I’m not much of a rule-follower, I’m a big believer in tradition. As long as no one is making me keep the tradition of course…
As far back as I can remember, Pesach traditions for my homogeneously Ashkenazi family consisted of eating lots of yummy homemade foods that included ‘gebrokts’ recipes (using matza products that are allowed to absorb liquid), but no ‘kitniyot’ (legumes… basically no beans, rice, peanuts, corn, seeds, peas, anything that is remotely similar to any of those things, or might possibly be confused with them by a drunk marmoset in the dark) or its derivatives.
Frankly the no-kitniyot rule was fine with me. For eight days (seven once I moved to Israel) I had more than enough great food to eat, as I’ve had all of my life on Pesach. It’s the kitniyot derivatives that gets me; particularly living in Israel where eating kitniyot, which is permitted for Sefardim, is so commonplace.
I’ve noticed some of my Ashkenazi peers have begun inching over to the dark (kitniyot) side. Some are doing ‘hatarat nedarim’ (annulling vows) to formally rescind this tradition from their lives. Others are just going with the flow… and the flow in Israel is clearly to eat kitniyot.
Do I feel something missing because I can’t spread hummus on my crunchy matza? Not really. How about if I serve that soft ‘laffa’ matza that Sefardim make? (It’s always the Sefardim…) Wouldn’t that be better with hummus? Well, yeah, but before you add ‘soft matza’ to next year’s Pesach list just realize that the soft matza tastes exactly like its crunchy cousin except that it’s soft and thick, and requires a lot of valuable real-estate in your freezer or else it will be hard and thick.
The kitniyot question takes up a lot of the conversation bandwidth in my house over the holiday. Should we or shouldn’t we? (I think we shouldn’t…) What if family members will no longer eat in our home? On the other hand what if one of our kids, one day, marries into a Sefardi family? Will we eat in their home? And why can’t we just have hummus on Pesach…? I think my family are all nuts. Believe me… we don’t need to add a single calorie to our Passover food repertoire.
Of course once Pesach is over, I am more than ready to join the Sefardi bandwagon. At least as a spectator. Years ago, while still in Boca Raton, Florida, of all places, we got invited to a Mimouna the night Pesach ended. Having never even heard of it, we quickly packed away all of our Pesach dishes, and as we hastily set our kitchen back to normal we took a break and headed over to our friends’ home for this mystery post-Pesach party. We arrived to a packed house that smelled incredible and found a collection of women working assembly-line style in the kitchen producing these mouth-watering mufletas, that were like deep-fried, flat pancakes, and drizzling them with honey. As fast as they were making them, they could barely keep up with the demand. They were incredible!
Once we made Aliyah, I knew that kitniyot would always be an issue, but I looked forward to the Mimouna celebrations, which are much more popular in Moroccan-heavy Israel. A friend recently told me that one of the special things about the Mimouna is it was a tradition to bring the Jews back together at the end of a holiday where people’s exacting food traditions sometimes kept them apart.
There was only one problem with going to a Mimouna. No one invited me to one.
Now I’m not blaming anyone. People making Mimounas don’t have to invite the immediate world. Of course, it could be that general invitations had gone out to the community as a whole in the past and I either didn’t see it, didn’t understand the Hebrew, or didn’t realize that ‘everyone’ included me… This year, after a decade in Israel, I saw an email invitation from a lovely family in my neighborhood in Hebrew, in English, and even on the English-only email list that I am the sole moderator of. Okay, I felt invited.
I called my friends to join me and we went. It was everything I had dreamed of. The mouthwatering smell, the assembly line of cooks, the mountains of mufletas barely keeping up with the demand, even traditional Moroccan dress was worn by the charming hosts. Best of all? The people there enjoying this Moroccan tradition were of every Jewish background. Ashkenazim and Sefardim, Anglos from different countries, French, Russian, people of all ages…
A beautiful tradition… that we could ALL take part in. Why not break into that one?