More and more folks are following gluten free, grain free or other kinds of whole food style diets for health reasons. A friend of mind asked his community for ideas on how to make the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover special, given his totally grain free daily diet. It's a great question, and a good idea for all of us to think about how folks who are excluded from the traditional ways we mark special, holy and cultural celebrations can connect and be in community.
Jews observe the eight days of Passover by not eating any 'hametz' - grain products that might have risen in anyway - basically no grain products (or legumes in many communities) except for matzah. If you're following a paleo, gluten free, grain free or other elimination style diet, you're already eating that way all year.
So how to make the holiday feel special?
If you’re not changing WHAT you eat, change HOW you eat. A special set of dishes for Passover is something most observant families have - why not get a special set of Passover plates and glasses, (get a fun mismatched set at a thrift store) or fresh table linens that will connect you to the ‘reason for the season’.
Depending on your energy level, this might be a fun time to experiment with new recipes that are within your restrictions. Like recreations of traditional recipes (check out this squash kugel from Elana’s Pantry, instead of potato kugel, and her tzimmes recipe too. (I personally loathe tzimmes, but you do you, tzimmes lovers!)
Check out some other recipe options like paleo macaroons, and Elana's Pantry really has the best collection of grain free Passover recipes online, including gefilte fish. If that's not festive to you because you’re making paleo gefilte fish throughout the year, I’m impressed with your yiddishkeyt!
Sephardi (North African, Southern European and Middle-Eastern) style haroset (a fruit paste that represents the mortar the Israelites used to build the pyramids) with dried fruit, toasted nuts and spices lasts much longer than Ashkenazi (Northern and Eastern European) style made with fresh apples, and can be a sweet energy boost with a Passover flavour all week long. - here’s a basic recipe that you can make with any dried fruit and spices. Traditional choices would include raisins, figs, almonds and pistachios, spiced with ginger and cinnamon. Moroccan Jews traditionally roll these into little balls, which would be a treat any day.
Passover is a commemoration of a people’s liberation from bondage - that’s what we reenact at the Seder table. The restrictions on grain foods except for flat matzah represent the haste with which we escaped Egypt, not even stopping for our bread to rise. But it is also a celebration of the earth’s liberation from winter and the rebirth of spring. It is this celebration of the earth’s renewal that give us many of the foods we are instructed to eat and to display on the Seder plate. Revel in the miracle of spring, a celebration almost all cultures share, by seeking out seasonal produce, fresh local flowers, or planting herbs for your windowsill. Hag Sameach, may all be happy, may all be liberated!