In Israel, Passover will be celebrated soon, while in Holland, Easter is already over and done. As a child, I loved Easter more than any other holiday. It was a celebration of spring and new life, of flowers, chicks and bunnies, of pretty coloured eggs, yummy sweets and Easter brunch. I miss Easter, more than Christmas or any other holiday. My mum usually sends us a package of Easter eggs and other Easter goodies, but it arrived late this year, so we will have to celebrate Easter in the Passover holidays.
Easter at Passover..? Isn’t that a bit… unkosher? Well, yes, it probably is. Good thing that as a family, we are all as unreligious as we could possibly be. My husband is a total atheist and while I would describe myself as more of an agnostic, religion plays no part in our lives.
Well. For as far as that is possible, living here. Israel is a Jewish state, and while there is complete freedom of religion, state and synagogue are inextricably linked. Certain parts of our daily lives are ruled by the rabbinate. Buses on Saturday? Nope, sorry. Shopping in Ikea when you’re actually not working, like in the weekend? Not possible. Buying bread during Passover? Good luck with that.
Yes, that’s right. During the entire eight days of Passover, it is impossible to buy anything containing yeast anywhere in the country except in Arab towns. That means no bread, no pasta, no pizza. No cookies, no cake, no cornflakes. No beer or other alcoholic drinks except Passover wine (ugh). Entire supermarket isles are taped off. Certain candies, toothpastes, soft drinks and other products are also off limits. Every year, I can’t quite believe the sheer number and variety of products containing yeast.
I am a reasonable person. I have complete respect for people’s religion. Each to their own and live and let live, is my motto. But there ARE LIMITS. I refuse to eat only carrots and lettuce for eight days, just because a certain religious group thinks that’s what everyone should do. I mean, what am I? A rabbit..?
Just for clarity: I am not Jewish. My husband is technically Jewish, but definitely doesn’t practise. My children are not Jewish, because I am not. Yes, this is a bit of a weird situation, but certainly not unique. I know many families around here with the same or similar composition. I also know many, many Israelis who are atheistic, non-practising or secular Jews. All these many people (the majority of Israel’s population, in fact) seethe with resentment about the religious laws that are imposed on us.
A Jewish man marrying a non-Jewish woman is frowned upon by the rabbinate. Therefore, we had to tie ourselves in all sorts of knots to be allowed to actually get married. We had a civil ceremony in Holland, so the state of Israel unwillingly acknowledged that we actually are married. Some people fly to Cyprus to get married, just to avoid having to have a religious ceremony. My sister-in-law and her wife live in Germany. I don’t know if Israel actually recognises their marriage. Even though there is a thriving gay scene in Tel Aviv, there is no gay marriage and there likely won’t be any time soon.
What does this have to do with animals..? I’ll tell you. Even on animals, the religious laws are imposed. Before Passover, the entire cow shed and dairy production place needs to be ‘decontaminated’ from yeast. The cows are not allowed to eat their usual food, because it is not kosher for Passover, therefore the milk is not kosher and the religious community will not buy the milk AND will boycott us for the rest of the year. So, all the unkosher food is cleaned out and new, kosher food needs to be brought in. It’s a huge production costing loads of extra work and money.
Last year around this time, I got two baby sheep from a friend, because according to the laws of his religion, the milk and food he fed them wasn’t kosher and he wasn’t allowed to handle it during Passover. I took the sheep. Who am I to fly in the face of a man’s religion..?
The laws also apply to rabbits. The first rabbits I ever got were given to me by a religious woman. They were a six month old New Zealand male and female. She gave them to me before they started to breed, because she didn’t have enough space to keep them separate and neutering was a no-no according to her religion. I thought that it explained a lot about the general Israeli reluctance to neuter their pets.
And not only animals. Even plants and the very earth itself are subject to the religious laws. Just as every seventh day is a resting day (Shabbath) for people, so every seventh year is a Shabbath year for the land. This means that nothing can be harvested from the land for the entire year. No matter if permanent fruit trees grow on it; the fruit is picked and then thrown away. I was promised regular vegetables for my animals by some kibbutz vegetable growers, but all of last year, their land had to stay bare and I got nothing. I will never understand the willingness to waste good food because of some custom that might have made sense five thousand years ago.
These are only a few examples of many, many bizarre rules (to my eyes). Not all of these are actual laws, but they might as well be, because if you don’t adhere to them, the religious community will boycott your business/shop/restaurant/whatever, and you lose a lot of income. So people trudge along, many unwillingly, but not sure what to do about it. We live in a modern, free-thinking and technically advanced country, but in many ways, people are held back by laws and customs from ancient times, that have nothing to do with our world anymore. I have to say I find this hard to understand and hard to deal with sometimes.
There are all kinds of people living in our kibbutz. Most are secular or non-practising Jews, some are more religious. A few are practising Christians. Others live according to the ideas of Anthroposophy. I don’t always agree with other people’s views and they don’t always agree with mine, but we get along anyway. Many people in the country and all over the world keep kosher for Passover, don’t drive on Saturdays and fast on certain days. I respect their choices and their religion and I would never interfere with how they choose to celebrate.
So why should their ideas be imposed on us? It doesn’t make sense. Mutual respect would benefit us in an endless number of ways. I might not believe in God, but I respect your right to do so, as long as you’re not hurting anyone. Please respect my right to live the way I want, under the same conditions.
But we non-believers have ways to get around the religious laws. Before Passover, lots of people I know stockpile bread in their freezer and pasta in their cupboards. I know I certainly do. Passover is all very well, but come on. Eight days! I love some of the Jewish holidays, but this one is definitely not my favourite. I prefer Easter eggs to matzas.
Happy Holidays 😉