This year marks my first, “post-gluten” Passover. The holiday, commemorating the Jews’ hasty exodus from Egypt, is in part observed by eating matzah, unleavened bread, while also refraining from eating hametz, anything made of fermented grain (bread, pasta, beer, etc.). The complete dietary rules are more complex and vary depending on ancestry. Ashkenazi Jews, hailing from Eastern Europe, also avoid rice and legumes on Passover, while Sephardi Jews (from Spain, Portugal, North Africa, Middle East) can enjoy them.
Many of my Passover memories have been bound up not just in the ritual Seders but also in the subsequent refraining, for eight days, from bagels, pastries, spaghetti, and sandwiches and my efforts to find freedom within such a constraint. The Seder, while festive and obligatory (according to Jewish tradition) is the kickoff for a week of inner journeying, of putting myself in the shoes or bare feet of the ancient Jews who fled slavery. Often, by the end of the holiday, I felt lighter and healthier for having substituted vegetables, fruit and protein for favorite starches. More importantly, I cultivated greater self-trust and self-discipline from having resisted temptation. Starting last fall, however, I stopped consuming items with gluten for health reasons. Which makes me wonder:
How will this Passover differ from Passovers past?
Since my new normal diet is practically a permanent Passover, minus the matzah (which I won’t eat now), what constraint can I impose in service of cultivating freedom? If I were to maintain a focus on food, I could banish gluten-free crackers and pasta, removing all imitations of items once verboten because of their ingredients. I could honor my Ashkenazi roots and forgo legumes, which now occupy more space in my diet than before. I could insist that everything I eat bear a Kosher for Passover label which, for religious Jews is a sine qua non but hasn’t been the case for me; over the years I’ve become increasingly more attuned to the essence of holidays than by-the-book observance. I could enact the aforementioned changes, but after having divorced sugar and gluten, which radically altered how I shop, cook and eat, I’m not sure making further dietary tweaks for a week would create the equivalent oomph of giving up foods I once loved or craved.
If there is something I reach for now as often as I once ate bagels, pastries and bread, it’s not a food item but Facebook. If there is one thing that would be challenging to give up for an entire week, it’s Facebook. I’m not sure I can calculate how much time I spend there, on and off throughout most days. While I generally don’t post on my personal page daily, I participate in several discussion groups, including one for Feldenkrais, and comment on blogs (many shared on Facebook), all of which feels valuable and even nourishing in terms of contacts made and relationships forged. To refrain from Facebook for eight days feels as daunting to me today as eschewing bread did when I was a young adult.
It’s one thing to venture into the wilderness, where one must disconnect, or travel abroad and choose to disconnect to focus on the local culture, but to impose a Facebook moratorium at home, with my digital devices blinking as if to say, “Come hither”, might require greater spiritual fortitude than resisting doughnuts and muffins in Passovers past. To completely remove the temptation to consult Facebook would mean sequestering my laptop and iPad; I’ve already deleted the Facebook app from my iPhone. But since I do need at least one device to check e-mail, write and listen to and study Feldenkrais recordings and videos, I can’t lock them up for eight days.
Hametz, the leavened and other products forbidden on Passover, can also be interpreted as anything that puffs up or inflates the ego. Facebook and social media can have that effect, especially when I receive many likes, comments or shares on my posts (conversely, the absence of same can, at times, puncture the ego until it collapses like a fallen soufflé). It seems fitting, then, as a spiritual challenge, to refrain from using Facebook during Passover, which begins April 3 and ends April 11. In Passovers of my earlier gluten-filled and somewhat gluttonous existence, reminding myself each year that it was possible to live without leavened foods offered a taste of freedom. I’m hopeful that a week and a day without Facebook will prove liberating, too, and that the constraint of not allowing myself to check it will encourage me to grow, deepen and connect in other ways.