Our First Pesach

By Chana-Esther Dayan

March 22, 2010


In 2009, I turned over a new Jewish leaf, so to speak, and I really wanted to make an effort to prepare my house for Passover in a traditional way and clean it of hametz. My husband and I had celebrated Pesach at my best friend’s house in Montreal several times in the past. I would usually buy a box of matzah and avoid breaded foods during the week, and that was the extent of my participation. Suddenly I was increasing my Jewish observance, and my husband was supportive, in spite of the new and somewhat challenging customs.

matzah, kiddush cup and matzah coverThe weeks leading up to Pesach were frantic. We were trying to sell our house and both of us were about to start new jobs. My husband didn’t mind that sections of the fridge were now off-limits to “regular” food and that our meals were getting on the creative side, as I was trying to use up the hametz in our house. We ate out a lot the week before Pesach, but he didn’t complain. I bought new Passover dishes and utensils, and my husband helped me ritually immerse them in the creek near our house.

I could tell that my husband was a bit nervous about what my expectations were of him during Pesach. While I wanted our home to be hametz-free for the holiday, I did not expect my husband to eat only Pesach food during the holiday, unless he really wanted to do that. I suggested that he buy some non-Passover food to keep for lunch in the office. He thought that was a good idea.

While my husband was willing to compromise and support the ordeal going on at home, he did, however, draw the line when it came to the invitations to the Passover seders. This past year, the first two days of Passover, which are considered yamim tovim, or holy days with restrictions on work, flowed right into Shabbat. That means three days of no electricity and no driving.

We had two options: celebrate at home by ourselves or celebrate at our friend’s house. My husband definitely didn’t want to spend three nights in someone else’s house, and I didn’t want to spend Pesach without him. The thought of spending three days in isolation worried me. While I was at home, my husband would be at work. While Shabbat alone was fine, as it’s only one day, the thought of three days completely disconnected sent my brain into overload.

Wisdom came from my friend in Vancouver. She reminded me of the importance of Pesach as a holiday. Since I had been doing so much to prepare, it would be so much nicer for me to do the seders for just the two of us, rather than at someone else’s house. I started planning for seders at home. My husband didn’t mind when my cleaning turned into a grocery-shopping, menu-planning, cooking, fridge-space management ordeal. In fact, he even helped me shop and chop.

I had my husband print himself off a free Haggadah online. After all, I wanted him to be able to follow along during the seder. In the traditional Haggadah, it says that anyone who adds to the Pesach story is praise-worthy, so I asked my husband to find something additional to read at our seder. We talked about the various themes of Pesach–for example, to moving beyond those things that enslave us, like our jobs or our attitudes. He went web surfing to find something.

Seder night came, and we read through the Haggadah. We had wonderful discussions over the story and I shared with my husband memories of the seders in my family. Then we found a moment for him to read his contribution. I had hoped my husband wouldn’t print off the first thing he found or some random tidbit. I had hoped he would find something that was meaningful, because I wanted him included in this holiday. He did not disappoint.

My husband read a beautiful story from the Chabad page. It was called The Four Boxes of Matzah, and the story moved him so much he started to cry, which made me cry. So here we are at our very first official seder, crying away and laughing. I could not have asked for a more wonderful memory and the start of this wonderful holiday. This energy carried me through the first few days of Pesach. As I organized the Passover food, I felt quietly contemplative, not bored–buoyed by the spiritual insights of our first seder together.


About Chana-Esther Dayan

Chana-Esther Dayan lives in Ottawa, Canada, with her husband of five years. She is learning to integrate her Jewish faith in her daily living in a mixed marriage. Since there are no real rules, Hannah and her husband are learning as they go.