Instead, of being in Milan right now, I’m sitting in the one-bedroom apartment my wife, toddler and I have basically not left in three weeks, drinking a quarter-decent bottle of Montepulciano. We were supposed to take a long layover in Milan on our way to Israel to spend Pesach (Passover) with family.
Just like EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. reading this, our plans changed. Thank God, we’re all healthy and we pray for every single person struggling through this awful plague.
Like most other people, Pesach has always been a big family affair. Even after my parents made Aliyah in 2011, we still managed to either be in Israel with them, together with my aunt uncle and many cousins or in New Jersey with the same aunt, uncle and many cousins. We never went to hotels or Pesach programs. With the exception of a bnai mitzvah, we’ve never spent all of Pesach out of someone’s house. When my family lived in “far flung” outposts like South Bend, IN or Minneapolis or New London, CT, it always seemed we were either in a house full of family and friends, or friends and family were filling our house.
My parents frequently retell a story about how I managed to get drunk at a Seder as a toddler (per the story, everyone around the table kept dipping their fingers in their wine and letting me lick it off), resulting in difficult-to-explain-to-a-pediatrician bruising. I have no recollection of that; call it my first night of being black out drunk.
This year, as my wife and I make Seder by ourselves – our first time, like so many other people – I’m about as clueless and black out as I must have been back then. For some reason, making Seder feels like the most adult thing I’ve ever done.
Back in late January, a client of mine – offhandedly – mentioned they were seeing some weird sickness thing going on in China. I filed that away but didn’t pay it any additional attention (seemingly like most of the U.S. government). It wasn’t until February 20th, as I rode in one of those fancy elevators with a monitor displaying headlines that I saw a headline about Milan having significant cases of COVID-19. After discussing with my wife over Shabbat, we made the decision to alter our plans – which I did on February 24th – and fly directly to Israel. That was “only” 40 days, or 960 hours ago. I provide these dates as some kind of mental anchors in this both absurd and dangerous times we’re all living through (thank God for Shabbat, amiright?)
The first Pesach of which I have real memories was sometime in the early 80s, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. I recall the preparation more than the holiday itself. I remember helping my father lug giant “Pesach cabinets” up the stairs (an activity my brother and I would loathe well into my 30s). I remember using a super cool plug-in apple peeler to make charoset. I vividly recall helping my half-blind – seriously, he only had one working eye – grandfather check the romaine lettuce for bugs. I remember the tears in my grandparents eyes when I managed to mumble/sing the Mah Nishtanah in Yiddish. I even remember an argument about why there were no matza balls that year.
It is phenomenally sad to know that the memory of the first Seder we’ll be making on our own comes under such globally dire circumstances.
Supposedly I’m already an adult, although many of my ongoing text conversations would suggest otherwise. Afterall, I’m 41 years old. I’m married. We have a child. We pay rent on an apartment. We pay dues to a synagogue. I’ve traveled extensively. I started my own business. People for whom I have the utmost respect pay me(!) for my professional advice. I’ve helped candidate win office and helped CEOs out of challenging situations. I’ve become adept at cooking sous vide. I can fix plumbing, change a tire, fix an engine, install light switches, hang shelving, and build IKEA furniture with ease. I’m even pretty sure I could field dress a deer. I can carve a turkey and smoke a brisket. I’m even getting reasonably adept at horology. Still, with all of that, creating a 529 account for my daughter felt – at the time – like the most grown up thing I’d ever done. Making Seder feels like a whole other level. It’s incredibly depressing that such a momentous occasion will be celebrated with so few people. But I suppose this is what they mean by “adulting”.
We’re going to miss a lot this year. We’re missing the chance to be in Milan and missing the chance to be in Caesarea together with family for ONE Seder –none of this insane two Seder nonsense we’re stuck with here – we’re missing running to Machane Yehuda for falafel as quickly as possible after the holiday ends, missing a pre (or post)-Pesach drink at the dive-iest of Jerusalem bars, missing seeing my parents entertain my toddler so my wife and I can get a night off. Most of all we’re all missing what Pesach is supposed to feel like. It’s not supposed to take place in this kind of anxious state, where we were masks and gloves to go outside and fear the very air we’re breathing. Pesach is the holiday of redemption, the holiday of Our Liberation. Being scared, anxious and nervous seems very antithetical.
“Next year in Jerusalem” will take on a whole new meaning this year. If not in Jerusalem next year, at least together with family here in Greater New York. Personally, I can’t wait to not make Seder on our own again, for a very very long time.
My very best wishes for a Chag Kasher v’Sameach and for continued good health.