Celebrating Passover and putting my health first

27 March 2021

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Passover, also known as Pesach, is a major Jewish festival that lasts for eight days, beginning this year on 27th March. It celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel.

We spoke to Matty about what this means for someone living with Crohn’s, and how he adapts his commemoration of this important event.

I have been fortunate over the years to spend precious time with extended family in Israel at Passover. This year of course, like last year, given the pandemic, it will not be possible. That said, it remains a special and enjoyable time of year which having Crohn’s or Colitis can affect, from participation in the rituals to eating the traditional foods.

Passover begins with a Seder, a ritual feast that takes place on the first two nights.

Living with Crohn's

During the Seder we tell the story of how the Jewish people were led out of Egypt to freedom, having been slaves. Seders are lengthy and can often go into the early hours of the next day.  This can be especially hard to enjoy, and endure, due to fatigue caused by Crohn’s. I have found that the best way to combat the tiredness is to make sure I have a restful evening the night prior and rest throughout the day of the Seder in preparation.

The food and drink consumed at the Seder can also have an impact on people with Crohn’s or Colitis.

Firstly, we drink four full glasses of wine at various times throughout the evening. With my medication, azathioprine, it is recommended that I only have a “reasonable" amount of alcohol to prevent a reaction. It is permitted to replace the wine with grape juice, however the acidity in grape juice can still have a negative effect on the gut. To avoid both these things, I make sure only to have a minimal amount.

We also eat different types of food at the Seder to symbolise various events. For example, Maror is a bitter herb such as horseradish, to symbolise the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt and Charoset is a sweet, dark-coloured paste made of fruits and nuts to symbolise the mortar used by the Israelite slaves when they laid bricks for pharaoh's monuments. The consistency of these items can be potent on the gut. I therefore abstain from this part of the evening or look to substitute the items with something similar but gentler on my stomach.

Whilst I feel guilty for not fully participating, I have learnt that health comes first.

Putting health first is permitted, with permission to not to feel ashamed for compromising some of the traditions. In addition, my family and friends know about my condition, which makes it much easier to take compromising steps without any possible judgements being made against me. Being open is key.

Finally, throughout the eight days we eat Matzah. It is forbidden to consume baked goods that have risen while cooking such as cakes and most bread. The Matzah is an unleavened flatbread which can be hard to digest for some people with Crohn’s or Colitis. I therefore only consume a small amount of Matzah to prevent flare ups, which is not all bad as I don't think Matzah is the tastiest of foods!

Whilst Passover is a festival which severely restricts the food you can eat, it is still a joyous occasion and a great opportunity to be with friends and family which I look forward to each year.

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