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Go ahead, have a shvach seder

You’re living through an international pandemic – you just don’t need to obsess about creating that inspirational, unforgettable Passover experience
(Illustration by Avi Katz)
(Illustration by Avi Katz)

It is so easy in these times to feel like we are not achieving Pandemic Perfection. Am I being productive? Am I decluttering? Am I running cool activities for my kids? Am I keeping up my workout routine? Am I learning tons of Torah and attending all the living-room concerts? Am I handling everything online like a boss? Are my spouse and I holding down two full-time jobs while supervising three young children in their online learning for multiple hours a day?

I am here, for anyone who accepts me as a halakhic authority or pastoral guide, to give you a heter – a rabbinic permission – and/or psychological and spiritual authorization as follows:

You are allowed to have a shvach seder.

And by shvach, I mean the Yiddish word for mediocre, underwhelming, unremarkable, or even kind of pathetic.

You do not need to set up a multi-media, multi-layered presentation on Zoom. You do not need to cook 17 dishes that remind you of all the family members you are not gathering with. You do not need to do all the cool things that people are suggesting for small seders. You do not need to go out on your mirpeset/porch at 11 pm and sing Chad Gadya with your neighbors. You do not need to compile an “in these times”-themed haggadah or seder supplement.

You are living through an international pandemic. For all of the support you have, for all of the jokes people are making, for all of the new Torah that is being learned…you are experiencing a collective trauma as an individual, within the daled amot – the delimited space – of your own home and your own life. You may be managing others’ experience of that trauma. You are dealing with challenges you have never faced before. You may feel scared, angry, depressed, or lost.

If you want to and can do any of the above for a maximalist seder night, great. But if you don’t want to and/or can’t, it is totally fine to cook a modest meal, throw together a seder plate at the last minute, get up to make salt water when it’s time for karpas because you forgot to do it before, make decisions on the fly about how much to talk about or reflect on each step of the seder and what to read and not to read.

Light the candles. Bless the wine/grape juice and the holiday. Eat the symbols. Discuss or reflect on some things. Read some things. Be energized, or be tired. Alone or with others (in your household or on Zoom), focus on what matters to you – or just do the minimum. Do cool new things because “what an opportunity to have an intimate seder!” or just read through the bare bones pro forma. Go to sleep knowing you have fulfilled your obligation.

You do not need to make up for the seder you are not having, or the seder you wish you could have. Do this year’s seder(s) however that works for you this year. Do your best to keep everybody healthy. Connect to the themes of Passover – getting out of narrow places, celebrating life, gratitude, remembering our obligations to each other and to all others. (And as a friend wisely suggested, donate – to one of the many funds helping those especially in need – the difference between what Pesach would normally cost you and what it will cost this year.)

Dayenu. That is more than enough.

About the Author
Susan P. Fendrick is an editor, rabbi, spiritual director, and student of improvisation. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, a physician and infectious disease specialist, and their 17-year-old twins (her 3 adult stepdaughters live nearby). The four of them will be having a perfectly fine shvach seder, with a few friends and relatives on Zoom. Her current motto is: Stay Home, Save Lives.
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