Passover Fatigue: Pharoah, Take Us Back!

The Seder can be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends - unless you’re a heartless cynic.

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Jews cross the Red Sea pursued by the Pharaoh. Fresco from Dura Europos synagogue (244-256 CE).

Passover is coming. In the darkness, as always, the “Seder Walkers” will come. Arguing over the quickest route, they’ll sweep through roads, cities and homes, bearing packs of tasteless kosher-for-Pesach dishes in their hands - greasy latkes as big as Black Widows, moist matza balls as big as baseballs. Over the year, they have almost been forgotten - indeed, some started to believe they never existed. But they do and they’re on their way.

Meanwhile, members of the House are locked in a bitter power struggle. They connive, they conspire, they use every maneuver and excuse in the Book. “I don’t want to sit next to him," “I don’t want to go there," “I don’t want to bring this."

The setting for a Passover seder.Credit: Courtesy

As Passover approaches and war descends on the Chosen People, only one thing is certain: no one and nothing is safe. 

If the analogy between Game of Thrones and the Seder seems stretched, it is possible you are a normal, fully-integrated human being, who thinks Passover is a wonderful holiday and who appreciates a great opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends. You are not a cynic. That’s good. That means you can have fun on Seder. 

Those of us who are more cynical, however, have a problem. Call it Passover fatigue. 

An emotional smother-fest 

Passover Fatigue doesn't affect everyone. Probably not even most people. Just like many people love Christmas, so many people can find joy in the comfort of ritual, the company of familiar faces and the (almost) gluten-free dinner that is the Seder.

But some just can’t. It could be that they’re hosting and have host’s anxiety. More likely, they are young people going through the stage of life when sitting with your family in a confined environment for four hours is tantamount to corporeal punishment. If you had to put a number on it, they’d fall mostly within 20-30 year old bracket, but the syndrome isn't confined to kids.

“Seder’s the worst day of the year," grouses a young Israeli who asked to remain anonymous for fear his dear mother would kill him. “All the relatives you barely see and wouldn’t know were relatives if your mother hadn’t told you in advance come and tell you you’ve gotten fatter, skinnier, or worse: that you’ve ‘grown up so much since we last saw you’. And then there’s the ‘when will you get married?’-type questions. And you have absolutely nothing to do but get drunk on cheap wine, stare at the walls or take reeeeeeeeallly long bathroom breaks while trying to fend off invasive questions during the four-hour reading of a 40-page haggadah.”

Granted, Passover can be stressful for just about anyone. Seder is quite often the only time extended families get together in Israel and emotions often run high. Thousands of years of Jewish guilt are condensed in the simple question: “You coming to our Seder this year?"

While most people can forget about it and enjoy themselves, to the sufferers of Passover Fatigue (DSM-pending), Seder seems more like the 11th plague. The one Moses couldn’t stop. To them, Seder is an emotional smother-fest straight out of a Philip Roth novel that could make any Jew scream “Pharaoh, take us back!” in his sleep.

Let me count the plagues

It’s hard to pinpoint what stresses the Passover-fatigued about Passover more than any other Jewish holiday - not because the reasons are vague, but because there so many: It could be the tedious redundancy of the ritual; pure boredom; the irony of celebrating liberty confined between two aunts and a toddler opposite your mother, grandmother and uncles in a cramped table; the awkward familial closeness – nestled with people you barely ever meet, silently being judged by eyebrows raised above a 1,000-year old text.

The answer could lie in the complex nature of the Jewish household. In theory, the Seder is just a good-natured family get together, a celebration of freedom, a chance to be with people you love who love you for one night and celebrate the fact that we are not slaves. Of course, Jews being Jews, no family get together is truly good-natured, “love” is a complicated emotion conveyed sometimes in ways that might not seem very loving, and “celebration”, well, you get the point.

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