Is “Passover Break” for Day School Families a “Break from Judaism”?

I dread Passover every year. In 2010, I wrote a blog about it in which I said:

I hate Pesach. I think it is a true experiential learning opportunity (and not just the Seder) … but I face the cleaning, the changing of dishes, the cooking, the family tension around the Seder table, the week feeling cabin feverish (because I don’t eat out at all and can’t get that out-of-the-house social interaction with many friends), and lastly the shopping, as my own personal slavery. Let’s be honest, observing Pesach in the most strict of ways is a total pain in the ass.
(check out the full blog entry)

Every year I feel the same way and this year I looked for a way to compromise with myself.  I knew I couldn’t afford a true Kosher for Passover resort or camp experience (single occupancy exceeding over $2500 plus transportation) and I knew I didn’t have the energy to kasher my house, so I  began to explore what it would to take to create my own KFP Resort.  I considered that beach condos are cleaned before you get there – the refrigerator is completely empty and wiped out, the oven and microwave have been cleaned, the pantry is empty (or 99% empty). So I decided that if I could find a relatively inexpensive beach condo within a 7-hour drive of Atlanta, that I could load up my KFP supplies (disposable cooking pans, plastic storage containers, food, etc) and take it all with me (along with a supply of sunscreen, beach towels and trash entertainment magazines).

I hit the jackpot with a cheap condo right on the beach in Hilton Head, SC and made plans to leave first thing the morning after first seder (so I could spend that with family friends).  By  4 p.m. that first day, all my supplies had been unloaded, the frig now full of my KFP food, and I was on the beach with a cooler packed with my first of many Pesach picnics.  It was a great week.  Sure I had to cook for myself, but once the sun went down and I didn’t couldn’t be on the beach any more, I used the nights to make dinners and prep picnic lunches for the next day.  There were a few times during Chol haMoed when I hit a shopping area that the smells wafting from the local restaurants taunted me – but for the most part, it was one of the easiest Pesach observances I have had.

As I sat on the beach posting my own pictures to FB (I’ve shared a few here), I also started noticing the flood of photos many of my other FB connections were posting – from cruise ships, from Mexican resorts, from JazzFest in New Orleans, and from a variety of restaurants in beach cities around the country.

And then I started to realize that many of these were coming from friends whose kids are at Jewish day schools and some from the professional colleagues who work at them.  As my friends’ kids have reached day school age and as my own business has extended into day school communities, I have become much more aware of the lives of day school families (primarily in Reform, Conservative and Community affiliated schools).

So I started to wonder:  since day schools typically don’t have a Spring Break and only have Passover Break – are families feeling forced to choose between some semblance of Pesach observance or a family vacation?  Do they feel that it’s a zero-sum game and that unless you are at an incredibly expensive KFP Resort that there’s no way to have your “pesadecha cake and eat it too?”

I brought this thought up to a friend and this debate/discussion evolved to me taking to my FB page to ask – “If you are a day school family and you don’t keep Kosher for Passover (or avoid chametz) … is it because it’s your “spring break” or is it because it isn’t an observance your family connects to? Meaning – if you were in school/work/town for Passover would you be more likely to observe it as a family for the week?”

I received a few responses confirming my suspicion that some families are choosing to forego any kind of Pesach observance in order to have a true family “Spring Break” vacation and that those same families would indeed keep a level of Passover dietary restrictions if they were home during the break.  A few people responded that their families were on vacation but rented apartments with kitchens (instead of hotels) in order to cook their own meals and take picnics around the city they were visiting.  One friend messaged me that if they were to go somewhere like NYC or LA they could see doing that, but if they were going to a resort town in Mexico there is no way they would consider that as viable.  Another messaged me that any week they have to cook and do dishes isn’t a vacation and they would never consider that an option.  None said that Passover dietary observances just aren’t the choice of their family regardless of where they are.  (Note: as someone who has held many various kinds of observances for all Jewish holidays, I have no judgement on the choices people make for themselves and their families – these are only observations.)

So here we have families that are making a major financial commitment (averaging $15k per child per year) to immerse their children in Jewish education and community, and yet they are opting out of one the three most “important” holiday observances in Jewish life because it means missing out on (what they consider) a real vacation.  In turn, we are raising a generation of ‘committed Jews’ who won’t know how to “make Passover” for themselves as adults or a future family.

So this leads me to ask – what would it take for Jewish day schools to be in session during Chol haMoed Pesach? What opportunities does that actually offer in terms of education and community building.  Here are a few ideas:

  • an opportunity to partner with a local kosher caterer (so they don’t have to kasher the school cafeteria)
  • 2nd night community seder where the kids lead (and opportunity to embed into the curriculum and showcase more than the Four Questions)
  • a chol hamoed BBQ picnic and sports night
  • an opportunity to have a fundraiser where families can purchase KFP dinners that are sent home with kids at the end of the day only need to be reheated at home  (encouraging KFP observance in the homes but easing the burden on the parents)
  • field trips during the days where the kids take boxed KFP lunches with them (to ease the cafeteria situation)
  • opportunities for older grades to go to the kitchens of the kosher caterers and learn how to prepare certain KFP meals that are then served to their fellow school mates the next day for lunch?  (experiential education at its best)
  • a family retreat/camp out for the last two days of chag

The great thing about being a consultant is I often get to point out a problem/challenge and make some recommendations for solutions, but I am often not responsible for implementation.  So I just leave this all here for you to consider:  if you are a day school parent would you prefer to have a different Spring Break from Passover?  Who in your school community could you go to to start a conversation about the separation?  If you are a day school professional, do you feel as though your students and their families would benefit more from being in session during Passover? What steps could you take to create a proposal for the leadership?  If you aren’t a day school family nor staff member … well I just say to you – maybe there’s an open condo next to me on Hilton Head for 2017!

(If next year can’t be in Jerusalem, then it might as well be in the sand somewhere!)

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