Why IS This Night Different from all Other Nights? (Or Is It?)

Passover is one of the many Jewish holidays that is celebrated with a ritual feast. A feast filled with symbolic foods and a prescribed schedule for when to eat these foods. Depending upon how observant the participants are, there is a wide range of recipes for the ritual readings at a Passover Seder.

Some read from ancient texts, others from more progressive versions. Some are tailored for passionate political discussion, others for children with short attention spans. Despite the diversity of the Seder itself, there are at least three specific commonalities adhered to by the most liberal and orthodox of Jewish celebrants.

  • There is no leavening used in any of the meals
  • There are at least four cups of wine
  • When it is time to eat, there are no restrictions on how much you can eat

As a kid growing up, dieting and caloric restrictions were an everyday part of my life. I was surrounded by dieters. The youngest of three girls, my two older sisters always dieted and both of my parents did as well. The diets never really seemed to work since none of us were thin. My mother often chortled, “Imagine how fat we would all be if we didn’t diet?” And of course I believed her and followed suit.

Many young girls that diet wind up becoming sneak eaters and I was no different. Because we are forced to satisfy our hunger and cravings privately, we develop the notion that we are beasts with insatiable appetites. Our appetite for food is freakish and our need to satiate this hunger is so strong, we must adopt furtive methods to feed that monster. It is a double bind. We feel weak in our inability to resist the urges to eat the “bad” food and yet the part of us that is demanding the food is a formidable foe with great strength and power. We are split and fractured around food.

The Problem in a Nutshell:

Passover and other food-centric holidays present a double bind for people already struggling with feelings about how and what they eat, how and what they don’t eat, how and what they would like to eat if they were allowed to eat, and how and what they wished they had eaten when they had the chance.

I KNOW YOU HAVE TO READ THAT SENTENCE AGAIN”¦BUT TRUST ME IT MAKES SENSE!

The Double Bind of Passover: A Two Act Play

Act I: The week before The Seder, we obsessed over what to wear in order to prepare for the unsanctioned but equally predictable ritual of Passover”¦

The Body Scan: everyone checking you out to see how you measure up to the last time you were all together. In my family, despite the fact that very few of us were thin, there was still a hierarchy within the ranks that clearly labeled the “Always Thin“ relatives as the better ones. Praise and attention were lavished on them like buttuh on the matzoh. The jealousy dripped like honey in a nice cup of tea.

Then there were the “Always Fats.” They were already a “fat accompli.” They would always be fat and that was that, “Those poor people.”

Newly Thins“ were the ones I envied the most. The attention they received, the fawning, the exclamations of, “How did you do it? You look amazing!” They were the stars of the night. Somehow they had conquered the beast and become successful.

The “Fat Agains“ were, conversely, the lowest caste of the crew. Also known as the “YO YO’s,” these were the mishpucha (family) who had lost but gained their weight back plus more. The “tsks tsks” and “cluck clucks” of the tongues, the subtle shakes of the heads, the implied message of, “If I had lost that weight I would have kept it off,””¦ or more blatantly, “I knew she or he couldn’t do it.” They were the ones my heart ached for and the club I dreaded ever joining. (Of course I was in and out of that club numerous times, and sadly it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was the dieting that actually created and perpetuated the problem). 

Act II: Off I would go to the Seder, “Ready for my close up, Mr. De Mille,” dressed to the nines and encased like a blintz in belly-binding control pantyhose. But the second bind of the double bind was not far away. After the reading of the ritual story of Passover, the feast would commence. Places everyone! But wait! It was as if they had replaced the cast with all new people and all new scripts.

All of a sudden size or weight was inconsequential. There was a resounding chorus of, “Eat eat!” And, “Have more! What, you don’t like my matzo balls? This is no time to diet, this is Passover, forget about it for just one night, you look fine!” And for the next couple of hours, I felt normal. I felt happy. I felt I could eat with abandon and enjoyment. I could savor the pleasure of food, slowly, languidly and not worry whether I was leaving crumbs behind like a guilty Gretel who subconsciously wanted to get caught eating Ring Dings in her bedroom.

I didn’t feel insatiable, or monstrous. I didn’t feel “wrong.” I felt calm and I felt in control. I had PERMISSION!

Why was this night different from all other nights?

Because on this night I was and am allowed to eat my fill in public. The double bind along with the control top pantyhose are gone and replaced with enjoyment and with self-acceptance. And once I really GOT THAT there was one less reason why this night IS different from all other nights!

Dayenu and Happy Passover to all!

Til next time,

Dr. Deah

Published by

Dr. Deah Schwartz

Dr. Deah Schwartz, clinician, educator, and author specializes in Expressive Arts Therapies, Eating Disorders and Body Image. Deah is the Co Author of the NAAFA award winning Off-Broadway Play, Leftovers, and its companion DVD/Workbook Set. An outspoken “New Yawker,” Deah believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to point out and eliminate size discrimination even when it means battling the mainstream media, and even worse, family members! To find out more about Dr. Deah’s work or to book a session visit her website at www.drdeah.com

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