Holidays sometimes make people feel jubilant and rejuvenated and at other times, sad and depressed. Much has been written about the stress of the Christmas season on Christians with suicide rates climbing following their most "joyous" time of year. But I wonder if anyone has studied what I like to call post-Passover stress syndrome (PPSS). And no, this syndrome does not arise from an unusually large number of matzoh crumbs on the kitchen floor. Rather it stems from a woman’s inability to meet the expectations of her entire clan (or herself) at Passover.
No matter how much the man of the house helps during Passover (and mine helps a lot), the ultimate blame or glory for what appears or does not appear on the table for eight days usually belongs to the woman of the house. We are a blended family. My husband’s folks are European and mine are American-born. The values that our parents handed down to us are similar: hard work, loyalty to family, and commitment to Judaism. But, some other aspects of our family lives were quite different most specifically, the food that we ate as kids.
I was brought up in upstate New York. I’m 50 years old now, and when I was a little girl, we could barely buy a bagel (and only egg bagels at that) in Troy, N.Y. I never tasted a knish, pickled tongue (still haven’t), or schav (still haven’t). My husband, on the other hand, was raised in Brooklyn, where pickled lox, matjes herring (I’m still not sure what that is), and kasha were all available in abundance. Once in a while my parents reminisced about their childhoods, when they ate schmaltz smeared on rye bread, but I never saw anything resembling that in my mother’s house.
In my home, we had turkey sandwiches on, yes, white bread, with mayonnaise. We ate baked potatoes and lots of hamburgers and fries. In my husband’s home, there was his mother’s famous potato kugel, stuffed cabbage, kishke, and an occasional pot of cholent (I didn’t know what cholent was until I was well into my 30s).
On Passover, when we are all so restricted in what we eat, I find that people want what they want. They especially want what they are accustomed to eating. My daughter, Jessica, practically lives on hot fudge sauce, ice cream, and tuna fish with mayo for the entire eight days. She never touches a piece of matzoh after the second seder night. My in-laws didn’t even know that kosher for Passover tuna existed. They subsist on matzoh brei, gefilte fish, chicken soup, and matzoh balls. They lust after a good homemade potato kugel. My potato kugel comes out of the freezer case at ShopRite. Meanwhile, my husband and I were trying to restrict what we ate over Passover to fresh fish, chicken, fruits, and veggies. That noble idea lasted for about an hour.
Before the holiday began, I made four huge pots of chicken soup and placed three of them in the freezer (my soup is neither greasy enough nor salty enough for my in-laws). I rolled matzoh balls and cooked gefilte fish. I made vats of fudge and spent huge amounts of money on teeny tiny pints of ice cream. I stocked up on tuna and chips and salsa. Basically, I bought anything and everything that I thought might appeal to everyone’s palate.
On the first seder night, I cooked a turkey (everyone likes turkey), matzoh kugel, stuffed cabbage, soup, matzoh balls, mashed potatoes (my in-laws looked at them with disdain and confusion because they were not in the form of a kugel), salads, etc., etc., etc. My mother-in-law approved of everything yet seemed disappointed that there was no veal roast. My daughter (a recently reformed vegetarian) looked at her with shock for even thinking about eating a calf. We served our favorite pink wine that my son-in-law thinks is overly sweet. My in-laws were chagrined that we didn’t have dark, red, sweet wine (you know the brand). End of day one.
During chol hamoed, my sainted husband made his way to the kosher supermarket to fortify our supplies, list in his hand. This was just one more shopping trip following his thirty or so before the holiday. We stocked up on U-Bet, cream soda, marshmallows. (Why don’t we eat them at any other time of year, when at Passover we eat them every day? This could easily become the fifth question.) I started another round of cooking for the last days of the chag.
Everything seemed to be going pretty well until day seven. My mother-in-law asked me if I had any borscht. Quite honestly, I’ve never let the stuff pass my lips. I sheepishly told her, "No borscht." "No borscht?" she replied. "How can anyone make Pesach without borscht?" Hmmmm…. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years. From that point on, she surveyed every guest who entered our home. "Do you have borscht? My daughter-in-law made Pesach without borscht." Forgive me, I thought, I did buy lollicones, candied fruit slices, seder mints, chocolate covered matzohs, matzoh crackers (whole wheat and white), 1′ dozen eggs. I baked five sponge cakes, made about 100 matzoh balls, and whipped up at least seven dozen meringue (some vanilla and some chocolate) cookies. I skipped the homemade French fries this year because no one remembered to ask.
On day eight, my husband, my hero, my Louis, interceded on my behalf. "Mom, do you even like borscht?" "Ech, borscht, I hate the stuff…. I was only kidding." From behind the kitchen counter, I wasn’t laughing. He said, "don’t ever mention the word ‘borscht’ again."
Now Pesach is over. I don’t feel suicidal. But, I sure as heck feel tired and not all that appreciated (except by my sweet husband). I think, in fact, that I might be suffering from PPSS. And how do Jewish women deal with PPSS? Not by committing suicide. This week, I’ll call my friends (as I am sure many other Jewish women will do) and we’ll head out for lunch maybe kosher sushi (something my kids and in-laws hate). We’ll sit around the table and discuss the yom tov that has just passed. As usual, we’ll realize that each of us accomplished something important over the last eight days. We demonstrated to the people we care about the most that we love them dearly. We attempted (some with more success than others) to make each family member’s holiday memorable as well as familiar. And in my own case, Lou and I have watched the members of our blended family learn from one another. One of the best moments of my holiday was seeing my daughter, Jessica, sitting next to my mother-in-law (Bubbie Yetta) on the couch, eating a bowl of guacamole.