When I grew up in Queens, NY, I loved Passover. This was a holiday for seeing family. (I loved seeing my cousins so much that when I was 5 years old and we were moving to a new house around the block, I cried because I thought we would have to get different cousins too.) Passover also meant that I could eat matzah, matzah ball soup, and all of the wonderful Passover foods. Matzah was always coated with margarine… corn-based margarine. So, even though I am Ashkenazic, it would not be correct to say that I come from a tradition of abstention from kitniyot (peas, corn, rice, beans, legumes) during Passover.
Rather than explain the controversy in detail, I will point you to this very good article that lays out the issues.
When I was in college, I learned about the kitniyot problem, and resolved to avoid eating these foods on Passover. Later in graduate school, I learned why so many reject that custom (again, see the article above) and was torn. Do I avoid kitniyot in order to feel kinship with other Ashkenazic Jews and to ensure that the foods that I am eating do not have even microscopic amounts of chameitz? Or, do I recognize that this prohibition is not from Torah, is not widely practiced in Israel, and is probably not necessary.
I go back and forth. Last year, for the first time, I decided that I would eat kitniyot on Passover. I had one of the most enjoyable holidays since my childhood. I no longer had to struggle with what I could eat. Since I am almost completely vegetarian (I eat meat, but only rarely), giving up corn, rice, peas, and beans was a big hassle and made my meals stressful. With the ban on kitniyot lifted for a year, I found that I really enjoyed Passover. “Ah,” I thought, “so that’s what it means to rejoice in the festival and be glad in it.”
Still, it doesn’t somehow feel right to me to eat those forbidden items. This year, even though it is now the 3rd day of Passover, I still haven’t completely decided what to do! I haven’t eaten kitniyot yet (as far as I know – I do not ask others what is in things that they tell me are kosher for Passover because I do not want to embarrass them or make them uncomfortable).
This conundrum is one of the things that I treasure about Reform Judaism. Because I have to struggle with these decisions of observance, I find that my choices mean so much more to me than they would if they were simply mandated to me from on high. I choose those things that give meaning, and it is my responsibility to struggle with the where, the why, and the how.
A sweet and kosher Pesach to you all, whatever that means to each of you!