A Chocolate Covered Passover

By Rabbi Emily Ilana Losben-Ostrov

I must admit that as a child and even a teenager, I didn’t really like the holiday of Passover. I saw it as a time in which I had to give up something I loved. A week without pizza, cookies, and even pasta? How could it be a holiday if I felt like I was being restricted- if I felt like I was giving something up? Shouldn’t holidays increase your joy, not make life harder?

But then one Sunday as a teenager my entire outlook on Pesach changed. About a week before Passover, I went to a youth group event unlike one I had ever attended…it was a “Chocolate Seder.”  We had a mock seder and almost everything was made of chocolate.

This is my favorite type of egg!

This is my favorite type of egg!

Instead of four cups of wine, we had 4 cups of chocolate milk. Instead of bitter herbs we had bittersweet chocolate. Instead of dipping parsley in salt water, we dipped strawberries in chocolate sauce. Instead of a roasted egg on the seder plate we used a Cadbury’s chocolate egg. Instead of a meal we had an ice cream sundae. I’ll admit it wasn’t the healthiest of events, but it felt like one of the first times I saw the joy in Passover. By eating fun foods and even using a crazy chocolate-themed Haggadah, I was able to see Pesach in a whole new light.

In a way, you could say that this Chocolate seder liberated my views of Passover to enable me to see the holiday as the true story of liberation.   Without the restrictions, I saw the joy- the joy of being with friends, the joy of celebrating our freedom, and the joy of celebrating God’s miracles.

Ever since the chocolate seder, I have seen Passover as a time for freedom not restrictions. I have seen Passover as a true celebration. Yes, we give up chametz (bread products), but what we receive in return is far greater. By spending one week to give something up we allow ourselves a chance to remember the enormous sacrifice of our ancestors. In our small sacrifice of not eating bread for only one week, we acknowledge and give thanks to God for the miracle of our freedom. And more than that, we give honor to all of our ancestors- to all of the Jews throughout the centuries. Our mere practice of having seders and following the laws of Passover is a statement that says our faith-our religion-our Judaism is something for which we should make sacrifices.

A seder plate made of chocolate you can buy online!

A seder plate made of chocolate you can buy online!

In the years since I was a teenager, I’ve often had “chocolate seders” with my students in the hopes that they too will learn to see Passover as a time for celebration and not merely restriction. However, even without chocolate, I believe we can focus on the real meaning of Passover- the real meaning of freedom and liberation.

May this Pesach be one in which we truly are grateful for all that we have- even if we have to make a small sacrifice to acknowledge that. May we celebrate our freedom and celebrate Passover in the hopes that one day- all the people of the world will be free, as well! Chag Pesach Sameach- Happy and Healthy Passover!

Rabbi Emily Ilana Losben-Ostrov is the Rabbi at Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, NY, where her congregants are begging her for a Chocolate Seder.

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Saying Goodbye before Saying Hello

By Rabbi Emily Ilana Losben-Ostrov

June 19th was supposed to be my due date.  My first child was supposed to be born on June 19th. As a congregational rabbi, I thought this would be perfect. I would take my maternity leave during the summer- the quiet time of the year and be back to work before the High Holy Days. However, as they say in Yiddish, Mann traoch, Gott Lauch- Man Plans and God Laughs. Except with us, God wasn’t laughing…in fact it even took me quite a while before I was able to laugh again.

My pregnancy was going relatively smoothly and then, like a Mack truck, I was sent to a specialist at the end of my 24th week. I was told by the doctor that I needed to rest as much as possible and drink a ridiculous amout of water (my words, not his). He also said that realistically speaking, I might be fighting to remain pregnant for weeks and not the remaining months until my due date. He didn’t seem overly concerned. He calmly said I might have to be on bed-rest or even hospitalized and that my baby might need to be in the NICU, but he didn’t seem to think anything worse would happen.

So, I followed “doctor’s orders” and took off from work, rested and drank a ridiculous amount of water.   I must say, that my congregation was incredibly supportive and the parents from the Religious School immediately sent over food, activity books, magazines and even flowers for me and my husband and a dog treat for our puppy. I rested and drank water, rested and drank water and rested some more and drank a little more water. I went back to the specialist the following week, thinking (and praying) that my situation had improved.

However, as you know from the title of this blog…there would be no improvement. In fact we found out that our baby’s heart had stopped before he would ever get the chance to take a breath outside my womb. As soon as I heard the news I began to cry and even wail. My husband and I cried together and then left the doctor’s office to begin making the plans for me to go to the hospital and go through labor. Without going into all the details, suffice it to say that in a period of 4 days we went from picking out names and thinking about cribs to picking out a burial place for our son.

I have been sitting in my grief and trying to find purpose. Why did I have to go through all of this? What was the purpose of all the suffering?

I do believe that we can find purpose and meaning even in difficult and tragic situations. It doesn’t make it “alright,” and it doesn’t make it “fair,” or even explain why something happens. As Rabbi Harold Kushner details in his famous book, I don’t know why “bad things happen to good people,” but I know that they do. If we can at least search for meaning in bad things it may help us to move forward- to go on with our life.

In fact, that is what my husband said to me as soon as we found out the horrible news- that we will go on. It was his way of saying, “we have each other and we’ll get through this together.” He, along with my parents, siblings, friends, congregants and even strangers have truly been there for me. I have been blessed with a truly caring community and for that I will always be grateful.

I’m still searching for the meaning in all of this loss and in some ways I may search for that meaning for my entire life. I do know, though, that one place I’ve found purpose is by sharing my story. This has allowed me to let others, like me, know that they are not alone and that they too, will get through this. And God-willing, they too will find purpose even in a tragedy.

Rabbi Emily Ilana Losben-Ostrov

Rabbi Losben-Ostrov is the Rabbi and Educator at Sinai Reform Temple (www.sinaireformtemple.org) in Bay Shore, NY.