This is my six year old’s school lunch for tomorrow.
Yes, it’s still Passover.
Your responses to these statements likely are either: “Oh, you’re not keeping kosher for Passover this year?” “So what? That’s what we do all of Passover anyway” or “Huh? Passover?”
In previous years, I likely would have fallen into the first camp (ugh, I’m judgy. Even I hate me for it).
I grew up in an observant conservative Jewish family (conservative when you use it to describe Judaism basically means the step between orthodox and reform. It has NOTHING to do with conservative politics) and we were more observant than pretty much every other family I knew. We kept kosher in the house (but not out). My parents have five sets of dishes and silverware. Daily meat and milk sets, Passover meat and milk sets, and a set of china and silver (meat) for holidays.
But my mother always said, “You have to decide how crazy you want to make yourself” in reference to our observance and therefore we were allowed to get takeout if we ate it off paper plates. Which was still more than any of the other Jewish families I knew growing up did.
Passover, however, was non-negotiable.
I remember spring break trips to Florida where our lunches would consist of french fries and ice cream, because that was all we could find that didn’t involve forbidden ingredients. I’m old. This was before Ashkenazi (eastern European in origin) Jews adopted Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese in origin) Jews’ Passover laws of allowing corn, beans, and rice.
Of course, we never complained, because french fries and ice cream still sounds like the best lunch in the world and we thought it was such a treat.
In fact, 2020 was the only year of my life when I did not keep kosher for Passover, entirely because I was a million months pregnant and therefore relying completely on Instacart for groceries and we just couldn’t find enough of what we’d need to get through the week.
So why does my six year old have a sandwich in his lunch for tomorrow?
I could have fought with him about the necessity of peanut butter and jelly on matzah. I could have sent yogurt and other things like that. And I did convince him to take macaroons instead of cookies for dessert.
But there are two bigger issues at play here and my mom heart couldn’t do it.
Number 1: He is the only Jewish kid in his class.
This is a pain I know all too well. There were about four Jewish kids in my grade (and none of us liked each other) until I got to college. (At which point I suffered from major culture shock the first time a new Jewish friend dragged me to Hillel. Who were these people? Why did they sing so much? I felt as lost as I had as the lone Jew.)
But he came home multiple days in December asking me why his friends didn’t understand that we don’t celebrate Christmas. He’s got an incredibly nice class and they asked real, genuine questions, but it still hurt my heart that at five (then) he had to be the different kid. Individuality is great, but being the only different one is hard even as an adult.
With that said, our next door neighbors have a little girl who is two weeks younger than Jacob and his best friend. And to her credit, he told me that every time ANYONE mentioned Christmas at school, she stood up and said, “AND HANUKKAH TOO” to make sure he was included.
BEST. NEIGHBORS. EVER.
But I don’t want him to have to explain all week what he’s eating and why it’s different. ESPECIALLY right after spring break.
Which brings us to reason #2.
Number 2: We’ve been dealing with some school anxiety. Another situation I know all too well.
His teacher is an absolute goddess (seriously, I went in as the “mystery reader” one day and this woman deserves three times what I make. I may have the same title as her as a teacher, but we do insanely different jobs.) and he’s been adjusting beautifully, but the first days back from an extended break are hard. And opening your lunch box to something you don’t want and have to explain to your curious friends on the first day back just feels like too much for a kindergartener with anxiety.
My mother still teases me that I took the same lunch to school every day up through high school. If you also grew up with anxiety, you’re probably nodding and remembering your own comfort lunch. Six year old also brings the same lunch daily (not the same one I had. Mine was definitely not this fancy, although I DO write a note on a napkin with stickers for him every day, which my mother also did, all the way through the end of high school. And she sent one with my dad to give me on my first day of college.) and not just because I’m too lazy to switch it up. It’s like rewatching shows. Repetition and routine are comforting for everyone, whether you have anxiety or not.
So as I made out my grocery list last night, I called my husband over and said I thought we should send the kids to school with their normal lunches. He immediately agreed (his family is less observant than mine. We had a conversation before we got married about how we would observe holidays to make sure we’d be on the same page. He didn’t want to keep kosher in the house, but agreed to observe the holidays as best we could) and I added bread to the list. We won’t eat it, and the kids will continue to observe Passover at home, but for the next three days, they can have normal school lunches.
Do I feel guilty? Yes. It’s me. I feel guilty when I open my eyes in the morning.
But I feel less guilty than I would have if I sent him in with a lunch that would have made his anxiety and school worse for him.
And the reality is that with flexibility, I think he’s more likely to appreciate Judaism as he grows than he would if it was presented with fixed rigidity.
I come back to my mother’s words frequently now that I’m making religious decisions for my children. And there’s plenty I drive myself crazy over (like baking challahs and hamantaschen with the kids to teach them about the holidays). But my own observance isn’t based in fear or guilt. It’s based in the comfort of rituals and routines and the knowledge that religion can fit into my life the way I need it to and that that doesn’t look the same from year to year or even day to day.
And like one of my favorite Peloton instructors reminds me at the beginning of every class, “All lifts, all enhancements are optional. You can always pull back.” I think that applies in a lot of areas of life.
Will he bring matzah for lunch next year? I don’t know. And that’s okay too.