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HELP: My 21st Birthday is on Passover!

While Spring Break is still fresh in our minds, this story begins a few months earlier, while I was home for winter break. On the side of our fridge is this magnet that lists when all of the Jewish holidays fall this year. Since the Jewish calendar is quite different from the one we actually live by, the Jewish holidays occur on different dates every year. For example, did you know that this coming November will be the first and last time that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide!?! But I digress.

Anyway, this magnet lists the first day of Passover. And right next to “First Day of Passover” is my birthday. Did I mention that I’m turning 21 this year? (I mean. It’s in the title. Come on.)

So I told a few friends that night on chat; “Oh my god, you’ll never guess what else falls on my birthday…the first day of Passover. o.0” One or two joked about having to buy me Manishewitz, because, well, that’s the thing about Passover.

The way we’re supposed to observe it, you have to rid your entire house of everything chametz, which consists of anything grain—cereal, pasta, rice, and bread. You can’t consume any bread product that isn’t matzah, or anything fermented, so anything that isn’t Manishewitz, or kosher for Passover, is out. You’re also supposed to use different dishes, but we really just observe the diet part of the holiday, more or less.

The bread restriction exists because, during that famous Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish slaves (my people) had to leave without giving their bread time to rise, so it became the hard, yeastless matzah that we eat in honor of this event every year. The Rugrats episode explains it better. I’m sorry for your childhood if you haven’t seen it; I’d link it to you, but I can’t find it on Youtube.

While all of my classmates had Easter egg painting and hunts and bunnies, we had long, boring seders and a full eight days without bread or pizza or cereal or cake or actual food.

Now that I’m in college and I can’t go home for the holidays, and now that that my grandma, who used to make her soup, and my grandpa, who used to sort of lead the seder, have both passed on, my memory of the seders is more sentimental, though at the time, I could swear they were less than great.

When I pointed out to my parents that Passover fell on my birthday this year, they were surprised. When I reminded Dad at another time, “So my 21st birthday is on Passover,” he replied, “Guess you’ll have to celebrate with Manishewitz.” And I told him, “Guess I’m not celebrating Passover this year.”

Mom thought it would mean she’d get to see me on my birthday if I came home for the seder. When I told her I had class and couldn’t make it, she told me to…let myself eat cake, to put it sanitarily. She told me to enjoy my birthday regardless of the holiday.

Normally, I probably wouldn’t give a second thought to my birthday being on Passover.  But this past May, I did Birthright and got to see, visit, and experience Israel and Judaism on a whole new level.

When I was young, I went to Hebrew School, where the seders were never as good as our own, because they didn’t serve Grandma’s soup.  I was even Bat Mitzvah’d.  But visiting Israel was something else.

And less than a year after going to Israel and seeing the homeland, I feel that not observing Passover—not even putting in a bit more effort than usual to go eight days without bread or cake—would be wrong.  I’ve done the eight days in the past, observing it in my own special way without any of the bread products we’re not supposed to have.  Would it be wrong for me to have my cake and eat it too on my 21st birthday?


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Rachel Chlebowski is an alumna of The College of New Jersey, where she sang with I-Tunes A Cappella, created props for TCNJ Musical Theater, spread literary cheer through Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, and wrote for Her Campus TCNJ. She enjoys reading novels and watching Netflix when she isn't editing manuscripts and media.
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