Passover is primarily a holiday of the home, not the synagogue. The preparations take days. We sit down to a table adorned with familiar objects: a silver cup for the Prophet Elijah, candle sticks, a lamb shank representing the sacrifice in Temple days, bitter herbs, matzah, parsley, eggs and salt water. We do the traditional "seder" -- its choreographed rituals burnished by centuries of practice. Everything is repeated on the second night, except in Israel, where only one night is observed. The traditional explanation for this repetition (other Jewish holidays are also repeated) is that after the dispersion of the Jews following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 of the Common Era, Jews in the diaspora could not be certain exactly when the holiday dawned in Israel. So they performed the rituals twice, just to be safe.
The rabbis were nothing if not exacting. Then again, the 25-hour fasts of Yom Kippur, Tisha B'Av, and others are performed only once. Exacting, yes. Crazy, no.
Well, maybe a little crazy. After all, we now know to the nanosecond when Passover begins in Israel. So why not dispense with the second night? I suppose Tevya had the answer: Tradition!
The Torah requires that we refrain from eating leavened bread for 8 days. The rabbis saw this and raised it. Among the Ashkenazi (European Jews), the list of prohibited items fills volumes. No bread? Check. But also no breakfast cereal, beer, soft tacos, crackers (except for matzah), pasta, beans, corn, rice, wheat, barley, oats, spelt, bread crumbs, chips or anything made with corn syrup. Lately, there's been debate about whether the grain quinoa is kosher for Passover. A friend accosted me in synagogue a few weeks ago to wail, "Have you heard? They're taking away our quinoa!"
So is it a festival of denial? To a degree (no wonder there are only 13 million Jews). But as the holiday approaches, the pungent tastes, the glowing candles, the comfort of wine and the unmatched sense of historical continuity are what predominate.