The Jewish Calendar

I spent much of yesterday morning cleaning our kitchen for Passover with my mom, while my dad and brother lay in bed on their computers, looking like internet-enabled sloths. Too bad everyone male in the family seems to magically turn deaf whenever the words, “can you help me with the housework” are spoken.

Anyway, Passover begins tonight. It’s a Jewish holiday celebrating the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, and it is observed through a seder, or discussion of the story, and 8 days of not eating anything leavened such as bread. If you are an Ashkenazi Jew you also don’t eat legumes, corn, etcetera. My family used to observe Ashkenazi Passover customs, but we recently switched to the Sephardic customs which allow you to eat many more things. Still, bread or anything made with flour is off-limits.

Here’s the bowl of chametz, not kosher for Passover stuff we had on our table for two days to try to entice people to actually eat some of it before we just threw it out. Most of the stuff had been in the freezer for a while… it felt so good to throw some stuff out yesterday!

bowl of chametz

I’ve noticed that many Jewish holidays involve specific food traditions. Some holidays impose restrictions on certain foods, others demand that a particular food be eaten. Come to think of it, the Jewish holiday calendar is quite analogous to the progression of some (theoretical) girl’s fad dieting as she goes through the body image and eating issues teenagers in America unfortunately face. Take a look at these Jewish holidays, in order starting from the beginning of the Jewish calendar, and you’ll know what I mean.

1. Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) – the custom is to eat apples dipped in honey to represent a “sweet” new year.arrow pointing down1. New Year’s Resolution: “This year, I’m only going to eat healthy things like apples. Wait, there’s HONEY CAKE here? Gimme a piece!”

painting of Yom Kippur

2. Yom Kippur – traditionally people fast (thankfully we don’t) all day on this holiday, not even drinking water, I guess as a sign that they are repenting for all the bad things they said/did that year. The night of Yom Kippur, though, the custom is to have a big giant fast-breaking feast.

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2. Starving and Bingeing: “I’m having a fast day to lose weight.” (12 hours later) “yes I ate all the potato chips don’t judge! I don’t want to talk about it! Oh, and we’ll be needing more ice cream too.”

sukkah image

3. Sukkot (celebration of the harvest) – for 8 days, people are supposed to eat their meals in a rustic homemade shack outside their house.

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3. Secretive Eating Behaviors: “I’ve got to go do something in my room. No, it has nothing to do with any secret stash of granola bars! And who told you about my secret stash anyway?”


4. Hannukah (festival of lights, when kids get presents and we light a menorah for 8 nights.) – for this winter holiday it is traditional to eat latkes, which are fried potato pancakes, often paired with sour cream. For dessert are jelly donuts, because the latkes weren’t enough fried food for some people.

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4. Unhealthy Eating: “I am so sick of dieting. My new plan is to eat whatever I feel like – especially since it’s winter and I don’t have to wear a bathing suit or anything.”

Purim gift basket

5. Purim – some Jews put together gift baskets called mishloach manot, filled with edible goodies such as the three-cornered cookies called hamentashen, which are made for Purim. The gift baskets are given to the poor, or sometimes just to friends and neighbors.

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5. Giving Away Food: “I want to be thin, so I have to stop myself from eating these sugary, fattening, malicious cookies. Hey, you there, here are some cookies for you to take home, because I’m just such a good friend.”

Passover seder plate

6. Passover (celebration of the Exodus) – for 8 days we eat matzah and other kosher for Passover junk, and can’t eat anything leavened or made with flour. We replace flour with ground matzah. (except matzah is made out of flour, but the flour was supervised by a rabbi so that makes it okay.)

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6. Gluten Free Diet: “I’m going to try eating gluten-free for a while, just to see if it helps me lose weight.” 8 days later: “Screw this, all these gluten-free crackers taste terrible! Maybe I should try going vegan instead…”

shabbat meal

7. Shabbat (the weekly sabbath) – we take a break from work on Friday evening, and have a family meal and try to be restful and not worry about our tasks to be accomplished in the future, just focus on being with our family and resting. In fact, there are lots of restrictions to ensure people won’t work, including no turning on lights or writing or even touching a pencil. But most people don’t observe these rules (thankfully!)

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7. Cheat Day: “Today I have no restrictions on my eating whatsoever. I’ll have restrictions tomorrow, but I’m trying not to think about that right now. Now I have one full day of amazing, blissful rest… so, what to do? I’m bored already!”

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Jewish holidays and the unique personalities of each one. But you can’t tell me it’s not intriguing, the way the yearly calendar parallels the idiosyncratic behaviors of a girl/woman with eating issues. My hypothesis: the food-related traditions for all these holidays were developed by some rabbi who had a yo-yo dieting wife!

Now, if you ask me, fad diets are one of the stupidest ideas ever conceived. Whenever I hear someone saying, “I’m trying the (insert name of popular new diet here) diet. I saw it on the internet” or “Seventeen magazine says this diet plan will give me flat abs and a hot butt by New Years Eve!” it really bothers me. Fad diets NEVER work, especially the ones in magazines which come out with a new “ultimate diet and exercise plan” every single issue which is supposedly “the last diet you’ll ever need.” Yeah, then why do you need to buy the next issue of the magazine? Well, to see the NEW “last diet you’ll ever need.” My advice will always be to see a dietician or a doctor.

Happy Passover, I guess. Look out for some kosher for Passover recipes coming up (hopefully!)

Photo credits:


One response

  1. Interesting analogies. These holidays do seem rather obsessed with food.

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