On the Jewish food scene: The meal for the ninth night of Passover

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

People who know that there are only eight nights of Passover may be scratching their heads over my headline: “The meal for the ninth night of Passover.” What could I possibly mean by that? Well, there is a holiday food tradition that starts just after the eighth day of Passover ends. What holiday are we celebrating on the ninth night? Of course, it’s Chag haPizza!

For those who don’t speak Hebrew-English (or is it English-Hebrew?), the correct translation for that term is the Holiday of Pizza. Yes, for years, my meal after the conclusion of Passover was pizza. It doesn’t matter that I might not have had pizza for months before the holiday: during Passover, I crave pizza. And, yeah, yeah, I know all about matzah pizza (yuck!) and now cauliflower crust pizza (which I actually like), but that is not the pizza I want after Passover. Thin crust, thick crust, deep dish – it doesn’t matter. Any kind of flour-based crust with cheese and lots of tomato sauce is fine. (Oh, and as nice as pizza with toppings on it is, to me, real pizza is just crust, sauce and cheese.)

I remember in college being the only one of my friends who observed the Passover dietary restrictions. Some of my friends could be excused because they weren’t Jewish. The Jewish ones weren’t observant and didn’t bother to avoid leavened food. However, all of them were more than happy to join me for a late meal of pizza the night Passover was over.

I once fooled someone into believing (OK, only for a minute) that the holiday was real. She helped me organize the seder we used to hold as part of my chaplaincy work. There was an abbreviated seder and a complete meal (the only time we did that). While we were eating, I began telling her about Chag haPizza and managed to keep a straight face. I can’t remember if I cracked first or if she realized it was ridiculous, but we had a nice laugh about it. (Although after that she almost didn’t believe me when I explained that many people have prunes as part of the meal since matzah can be constipating. When she realized I wasn’t joking this time, she gasped with horror as she noted that one person had scarfed down about four pieces of matzah. I said that yes, he was going to have problems.)

During the past few years, I haven’t observed the holiday as faithfully as I once did. It’s more fun to celebrate it with other people, something that has not been possible during the pandemic. Maybe I’ll find a way to do it on my own this year. If not, perhaps I’ll just have to celebrate Chag haSpaghetti instead.