The Passover holiday begins today and so does my ambivalence. I love traditions, story telling, special holiday foods. But I am so torn with the contradictions! The message of Passover, liberation from slavery, is something that resonates strongly for me. Should the holiday just be about the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt hundreds of years ago, so that it should be remembered and never permitted to happen to the Jews again? Can I sing the songs, recount the story and eat the traditional foods without questioning why are we not demanding liberation of all peoples from slavery and exploitation? And why are we not demanding liberation of all sentient beings from exploitation? Close to one billion people are malnourished and starving today. In the Haggadah, where we read the Passover story, what is the meaning of saying “all who are hungry, let them come and eat?” Does anyone really mean that when it is recited during the Passover seder?
The hypocrisy behind the Passover foods are what pain me most, deep in my core. Brisket is from a tortured calf or cow, an innocent animal enslaved its entire short life so that we can enjoy it’s flesh on this holiday about liberation and freedom. Countless eggs are used in traditional Passover foods like the sponge cake, the kugels, the matzo brie, from innocent, enslaved hens that have been painfully debeaked and crammed into small cages or warehouses without comfort, rest, sunlight, nourishing unprocessed food or love from their own kind – their own family and friends. And innocent, enslaved chickens, their bodies contorted through breeding and drugs to have large meaty breasts unable to hold their oversized bodies up on their thin legs, filled with fear, exhaustion and pain, hung by their legs when prepared for slaughter so that there is chicken soup for the matzo balls. How is it others do not see this during the Passover seder? How can we tell a story about slavery and liberation as we eat the products of the slavery we condone and support?
I do my best to find the joy in Passover as I stuff the sadness inside and sing the songs with my family. I love the vegan versions of all the favorite traditional Passover recipes – kugel, sponge cake, chopped “liver,” macaroons, matzo ball soup – all delicious and free of tortured animals and their byproducts. We dip the parsley into the salt water to remind us of the tears of our ancestors who were enslaved. These are not my ancestors’ tears. These are my tears. I taste the salt of my tears and swallow hard.
The Passover story ends in song: “Next Year in Jerusalem.” For me, Jerusalem is a metaphor for liberation. Next year, liberation. Liberation for all enslaved, sentient beings, human animals and nonhuman animals alike.
Here are our REAL Passover recipe favorites: