By Lynne Meredith Golodner
THIS PASSOVER comes at such an interesting time. Just days before my new book about bread debuts, I am emptying my cupboards of anything leavened.
This year, as my collaborative book The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, is published by ReadTheSpirit Books, I am more in the mindset than ever before about the significance and symbolism of bread to elevate our lives or plunge us into the depths of despair.
I used to feather-dust under and inside my cupboards, ferreting out any last crumbs before the arrival of the Passover holiday. In my more religious days, we spent weeks cleaning, emptying freezers and cupboards and ridding our lives of the arrogance represented by leavened foods for an eight-day holiday that transformed our perspective.
I don’t do that anymore.
While I am no longer rigidly religious, I am intensely spiritual in a more universally accepting and enlightened way than ever before. And after spending the last two years creating Holy Breads, I am more aware than ever about how we make the simple sustaining presence of bread something magical, mystical or mythical in our spiritual lives every day.
Passover is the Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt millennia ago. Every year, we are commanded to retell the story around our beautiful tables and feel as if we ourselves had fled slavery under the harsh rule of Pharoah. We are to sit on pillows to remind us that we are free. We are to clear out any crumbs from our homes and eat only approved foods for a week.
The night before the holiday, we hide several pieces of bread throughout the house and by candlelight, have the children look for them, so we can finally and poetically burn the last pieces of leaven before commencing the holiday.
Holidays are as much about religious revelation and reverence as they are about family connection. Last week, I pulled out the yellowed, crisp piece of lined paper on which I wrote my grandmother’s chicken soup recipe more than 15 years ago. The blue ink is smeared in places where drops of water tainted the writing.
I’ve made my big pot of Grandma’s chicken soup, flavored with dill so I know it is hers. I can almost hear my grandfather’s voice as he breaks the middle matzah, or Afikoman, to place under his pillow at the head of the table and entice the children to steal it and hide it. Somewhere in my closet, I have squirreled away the silver dollars I received every year when negotiating the return of this precious symbolic “dessert” so we could end the Seder meal.
‘Part of Something Bigger’
My connections to identity and legacy come through the holiday table. While I cannot quite feel like I was a slave in the desert, I can relate to some of the commentaries in the collection of Haggadahs that we use in my house every Passover. When I read about equating the slavery of Egypt to ways we enslave ourselves today (think: iPhone, workplace, our over-burdened schedules), I come close.
But the greatest lesson I take from these holidays is that I am part of something bigger, a community, a mindset, a belief system that is universal in its desire to spread peace through the world.
I can’t even say it’s ironic that my debut book on how bread is symbolic and significant in many faith communities comes back from the printer in the midst of the one holiday of the year when we Jews don’t eat, touch or look at bread.
For one week, we rid our homes, our bellies and our thoughts of the rising in a food we take for granted year round. It is a food that represents simultaneously holiness and extravagance, dependence and redemption, and one that brings with it the sustenance of life, the bare minimum we need to sustain our bodies.
What bread symbolizes is the most basic sustenance and the extravagance with which we feed ourselves every day. It seems so easy to spend a week without this most basic of foods. A week. Eight days. There are so many other foods to eat.
But what it becomes for so many is a burden and an ache. The focus is not on the freedom of doing without but the prison of restriction.
I don’t live that way. Long ago, I gave myself permission to observe what is meaningful to me and leave what is not. That is the lesson of spirituality – it is a deeply personal thing, a way to live one’s life, with only the Self to answer to.
‘With less, we see more, we shine brighter.’
Recently, I hired a stylist to guide me in choosing clothing that is flattering for my body size and shape. For years, I’d walk into my packed closet, shirts pressed tightly together, so many things to choose from and no clue what to wear and what matched. I invited Jessica into my closet and let her loose.
The result was a mountain of discarded clothing that either made me look too old or too young, that didn’t fit properly or was long since out of style. Of course, I maintained veto power and there were 2 or 3 items that found their way back inside my closet.
But at the end of that day, I was left with a closet in which I could breathe. Clothes hung comfortably on the rods; one shelf lay bare. Everything I owned could be seen easily, and folded well, rather than stuffed into shelves close to overflowing. Jessica and I later went shopping, and she found pants and tops and boots for me that fit the way they should. (What a revelation that I’d been buying jeans two sizes too big!) Now, I have a greatly reduced collection of clothing to choose from—but everything I put on fits me well and I feel so good when I step outside.
Passover is a similar quest. We eliminate so much from our lives. It’s a shame that it takes a religious mandate to do a massive spring cleaning—but whatever gets us there is useful, to be sure. It’s a huge undertaking, emotionally and physically, to let go of what is not needed and a huge revelation to realize that we are just fine without all of it. Perhaps even better off.
Simplicity is a gift to treasure. With less, we see more, we shine brighter. Years ago, I hated the burden of preparing for a religious Passover—nights of cooking in my basement, using the laundry tub as a sink, and scrubbing every room of the house to rid my family of leavened products.
And then, after all the cleaning and cooking was done, I was left with the most basic of ingredients. We couldn’t use bottled salad dressings, so I whisked the juice of a lemon with olive oil, salt and pepper. We bought cases of fruit and baked apples and pears as dessert. We traded complex and manufactured for whole and simple.
I don’t mind Passover because I see it for what it is: an opportunity to slow down and focus on the meaning behind the words. An opportunity to pare down, to simplify. A time to gather together and remember our roots.
Lynne Meredith Golodner is the author of the soon-to-be-released The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads. She blogs at www.lynnegolodner.com and owns Your People LLC (www.yourppl.com), a Michigan company that provides public relations and marketing/communications consulting services.