Nitzan Ziv • Brooklyn, NY
Last spring my aunt came to visit me in New York and my family took her to a local Thai restaurant for lunch. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but my aunt’s visit coincided with the holiday of Passover and for some reason or another my aunt—an Israeli-born Sephardic Jew—acts religiously observant on only two occasions: Yom Kippur and Passover. The rest of the year she behaves like most other secular Americans. She goes to the movies on Saturdays and eats every kind of meat and seafood.
When I say she observes Yom Kippur, I mean she observes it in the strictest possible sense. She does not eat for two hours before sun down, then walks an hour and a half to synagogue each way. She doesn’t turn on or off lights for twenty five hours. She refuses to take naps during the fast because she believes sleeping is a way to avoid the hunger that forces you to think and atone for that year’s litany of sins. And she makes a point to get to synagogue four to five hours before the break-fast, for some more reflective suffering, I suppose.
My aunt is a bit more flexible on Passover. As a Sephardic woman, she is traditionally allowed to eat rice and other legumes that are prohibited for Ashkenazi Jews. She will eat out at restaurants and avoid leavened bread products and other forbidden foods for the holiday. And although she does not care if all the packaged foods she purchases from the supermarket carry the proper kosher certifications (I have often heard her go off on tirades about how the kosher food industry is only looking to make money and not looking out for its people), she still celebrates the holiday with intent, even removing all leavened products to a separate pantry.
Back at the Thai restaurant, my aunt perused the menu and called the waiter over to ask if the rice noodles contained any wheat flour in them, which would be forbidden during Passover. When the waiter responded that he did not think they did, she said, “Oh, okay, then I’ll have the Pad Thai with pork.”