J500 Media and the Environment

Escape from Egypt, Blow out candles by bendcohen

The end of March is a very special time for me.  The weather is nice, mid-terms are finished, and, most importantly, it is when I celebrate my birthday.  On Tuesday, March 30th of this year, I will turn 23.  This will be my first prime-numbered age in four years, and will also be the first time I can remember my birthday coinciding with Pesach.

Take away the diapers, and this was surprisingly accurate. Image found on Google (the search engine, not my hometown).

What is “Pesach”, you ask?  It is more commonly known as Passover, one of the most significant holidays in the Jewish faith.  I grew up celebrating this holiday (“holiweek” would be more accurate, though it sounds tremendously awkward) every spring, a difficult feat in a place like Topeka, KS (known today as “Google, KS”).  It is challenging because, like most observances in my religion, it involves a dietary restriction.  In this case, to recognize how Israelites escaping Egyptian bondage did not leave time for their bread to rise when leaving, we do not eat anything leavened.  Mostly, this means avoiding bread products.  In elementary through high school, this was extremely challenging, because school cafeterias in a community with very few Jews tend not to accommodate us too well.  Lunch every day featured rolls, or pizza, or pasta (considered leavened because of the effects boiling water has in the cooking process), and I couldn’t touch one of them.  In high school, I had the alternative of a salad bar, but it was of incredibly poor quality.

This year, with Passover and my birthday happening at the same time, I am presented with an even greater conundrum.  I am used to not having a traditional birthday cake, as tradition in the Cohen household has been, for many years, for my mother to prepare one of her famous cheesecakes, but this still puts a limit on what else I can have on March 30th.  It will be the second night of Passover, meaning there will be a Seder (a combination of a meal and service), and while I am not always the best Jew in the world, I try not to miss those.  My preference on my birthday is generally to meet friends at a favorite restaurant, then go out for drinks.  Sadly, beer includes yeast, the most well-known of leavening agents, and if I were to stick to the rules adamantly, this would be off-limits.

I already know that I am going to play a bit loose with the rules for this unusual occasion.  I’ve never kept kosher, so I try to follow guidelines for holidays, basically as a way of compensating.  Even then, I find the occasional loophole.  A favorite over Passover is to invoke the small amount of Sephardic heritage in my family, which frees me up from avoiding starches all together.  There is always a little bit of guilt involved (cue up any stereotype you want about “Jewish guilt”, because you probably heard it from one of us).  But even if it’s just to have a few beers and some chips on my birthday, I am making a special exception to the rule.

~Ben C.


4 Comments so far
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I am wondering what affect our new food system has on religious dietary restrictions. Does it make it harder? Are you constantly having to read labels to make sure that what you’re not supposed to be having isn’t in the item you want? Do you have to know more about what those really long ingredient words mean so you’ll know if you can eat them or not? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

I personally don’t do that, but there are many who do. It is a challenge depending on specifically where you get your food from. My example of school cafeterias was given because you can barely escape non-Kosher for Passover foods there, and much of what you could bring from home isn’t practical to keep in a bag and pull out during the middle of the day.

There are a few grocery stores that have a small, but convenient, section of kosher foods during Passover, but keep in mind we are discussing a week every year of a major change to eating habits. Without much of a hint anywhere else of this event, it can be easy for people to forget what limitations you have. ~Ben C.

Comment by Ben

I found your post to be very thought-provoking! I am not Jewish myself, so I found reading about the practices interesting. You also bring up a very good point of the conflicting interests here-your birthday and staying true to your Jewish beliefs. I find that interesting to read about.

In regards to your choice between the two, would you say your Jewish practices always get put on the back burner to fun activities with friends? Or does it depend on the situation?

Also, I’ve always been interested to know how hard it is to follow the dietary restrictions during Passover? I would personally think it would be very hard to follow. Have there been other instances where you haven’t been able to follow the rules?
Great post!

-Jackie M.

Comment by jackiemcc


I’m glad this got you thinking. I try, for the most part, to place religious observances over fun with friends, and really do consider this year an anomaly. There are certain holidays that my congregation emphasized over others, so you typically won’t find me gearing up for something like Simchat Torah, a meaningful holiday that is less known outside of Judaism. Ones that I grew up with, like Passover, I try to observe properly, and have gotten better at over the years.

In terms of how hard it is to follow Passover-specific restrictions, it is a combination of will-power and surroundings. It was extremely difficult in the K-12 years for me, for reasons I explained in the post, though in college I have greater control over what food I have access to during the day. At this point, the real challenge is just in committing to not eating certain things for a week, and occasionally replacing them with matzoh, which I really am not a fan of, though my non-Jewish friends always seem to love. ~Ben C.

Comment by Ben

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