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Passover in the Shadow of COVID-19

by Judy Krasna

F.E.A.S.T. Secretary and Chair of our Global Task Force

Most of my fondest Passover childhood memories are associated with food. I remember the kitchen table laden with my grandmother’s sponge cakes and other delicacies that only she could produce with such flawless perfection. Cooking for Passover was a joint effort between my mother, my grandmother, and my older sister. The menu featured traditional Jewish Eastern European cuisine and was not subject to innovation. The idea was to preserve the food culture from one generation to the next in order to maintain a connection between the generations. I can stand in my own kitchen on the eve of Passover, inhale the matza ball soup simmering and the brisket braising, and be transported back to the kitchen of my childhood. In that moment, through those familiar and delectable smells, I am reunited with my mother and my grandmother, who both left this earth over 25 years ago.

I love cooking for my family using the recipes of past generations. I do make some adaptations since I will not use a cake recipe that requires 12 eggs (separated no less!) but a lot of the food is the same.

My kids look forward to Passover, and they confirm well in advance of the holiday that I will be making all of their favorite dishes. There is one exception in our family, and that is my daughter who suffers with an eating disorder.

Passover comes with many dietary restrictions, and many staples of our usual diet are eliminated, such as bread, cereal, grains, and pasta. Jewish cooks have found ways to replicate many dishes using ingredients that are allowed on Passover; but overall, the food isn’t the same. And as we all know, for someone with an eating disorder, dietary changes often cause anxiety, stress, and discomfort.

During Passover, my daughter is forced to eat foods that she would not normally eat because the foods that she does usually eat are off-limits. This creates a tremendous challenge. Sometimes she does really well with that challenge, and other times it’s visibly difficult for her to deviate from her usual regular foods and try something different.

If this were a regular year, we would be planning family day trips and activities to fill the intermediary days of Passover. In addition to the obvious benefit of family time, I find that these holiday outings act as a stress reliever for my daughter and a way to focus on something other than food, which is really important for her mental health. This daughter loves the beach; and even though my other children are not fond of eating matza sandwiches with the added ingredient of sand, they all agree to a day at the beach because they are kind and sensitive siblings. Two years ago, we tried out family karaoke and discovered that our talents lie elsewhere, but it was fun! We usually see at least one movie in the theater during the Passover holiday week, even though my husband grumbles that we can avoid traffic and the cost of movie tickets if we just download a movie and watch it at home on our big screen.

This year, Passover is going to be more difficult for my daughter than usual. In Israel, like in many other countries, we are confined to our homes due to COVID-19, and that is not going to change in the next 2 weeks. There will be no family outings to distract my daughter or to offset her anxiety over the major changes in her diet during the Passover holiday.

I have learned that being prepared goes a long way toward positive outcomes, so I have started thinking about how we can help enhance my daughter’s holiday experience and boost her mental health during Passover given that we won’t be able to go anywhere to do anything. We have an old Wii Rock Band game with instruments up in the attic that we haven’t touched in years, and my husband suggested that we take it down and have a family jam session one day (with the windows closed—we really are that bad!).

I plan to print out some adult coloring pages; though my daughter won’t readily admit it, she likes to color. Unbeknownst to my 18-year-old son, who will undoubtedly complain about it, we will be having a family coloring activity. I will give him, my husband, and my son-in-law an exemption from home spa day 😊. I am going to ask my son to make up a Kahoot family game. Maybe we will have a Master Chef competition or a family cooking session. This is what I have come up with so far; it’s a work in progress.

Is this Passover going to be different than usual?

Yes, it is, but it can still be a beautiful holiday. I wish that my daughter was in a place where dietary changes wouldn’t phase her, and she could enjoy the special holiday foods along with the rest of the family. But since she is not there right now, and I know that this is going to be a strange holiday without social interaction with extended family and friends, I am going to invest some energy in occupying her time and her mind so that she, too, can have positive associations with Passover in the years to come.

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