You know things are bad when the bilingual wrapper from your Halls extra strength cough drop provides the daily inspiration: “Keep your chin up. You’ve survived tougher,” and a cut-off something about “une seule minute.” (Not that I’m coughing/je ne tousse pas, I hasten to add).
In this hyper-aware reality we find ourselves in, little things stick out more than usual: the song on the radio that you used to kind of like, but which now make you bawl as you peel the carrots; the photo from happier times that floats up on your Facebook feed, your eyes opening wide remembering a gathering of that. many. people. OMG!
Or that moment when you think you’re doing fine preparing for your virtual seder, happy to be setting out the familiar things like the lime green wind-up frog, the seder plate and Elijah’s and Miriam’s cups, and then you find the handmade place cards from seders of the past. You read the names – Hannah, Matt, Rachel, Elliot and all the others – and it takes your breath away in your dining room: they really won’t be sitting around your table this year. Who needs the bowl of salt water to remember the salty tears?
No, you won’t be enjoying your friend’s special meatballs, or that dish your daughter made for the vegan friend, or a bottle of kosher wine brought to your seder table by someone just back from Israel. You won’t be lingering in the kitchen when it’s finally done, washing dishes with your family until you think your legs are going to give out, while you trade stories and recall highlights of the evening. You won’t be going to bed so tired that you don’t know how you actually pulled it off, but waking in the morning and stretching lazily because there are leftovers and everyone can have a lazy day. Mmmm….matzah ball soup, day two.
There was a lot of what we didn’t do and couldn’t do this Passover, and despite all the reassurances of “don’t worry, you’ll all be together again,” there was a devastating drumming eleventh plague in the back of my mind as we prepared: “What if one of us doesn’t make it?” An annoying and pointless catastrophizing plague, which should be utterly banished, spat upon and blotted out. Kish mein tuches!
But the other reality of virtual Pesach was that some things felt very familiar and normal: the last-minute friend looking for a seder table; the mad scramble to find meaningful supplementary readings; and reading the old story of our escape from bondage while thinking “Hallelujah, we’re doing it! Dayenu.”
Our virtual seder rolled along (thank you, Zoom!) and again I made a mental list of what I’d change or keep for next year, like I do every year. Yeah, we made too much food, that we wished we were sharing with our loved ones on the laptop, but we’ve eaten or frozen or shared it with Mum and it was good to have the familiar routine of making it and setting it out and serving it on the white dishes kept in the cupboard all year long for Passover. It still felt like we were hosting, and it still felt fun to hide the Afikomen, this time watching the search in our kids’ house, 1,400 kilometres away. I imagined every parent in the world giving every child whatever they could this Passover, in lieu of their freedom to just be kids.
There were some good new things too, like adding in my 91-years-young mother-in-law in Israel to our Zoom call – why hadn’t we thought of doing that before? (Maybe because it was 1:00 a.m. for her? But still, she loved it). And again the second night, when we connected her with her children, grandchildren and their children, four generations singing together “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Ok, maybe not exactly four generations, because by that point the great-grand-daughters were more interested in chasing each other around the table and jumping off the couch. But hopefully the best parts of this new-old tradition will stick, and I pray that someday they will be hosting their own seders, with gatherings big or small, virtual and real.
And maybe someone will ask, “Hey, do you guys remember when we were kids, that crazy year it was the pandemic and everyone was locked down on Passover? Best Afikomen reward ever!”
Hag sameach. This was my Pesach prayer.
Passover Seder 2020
If all we have is this night, let us come together not in terror, but in awe.
If we have food on our table, let us remember those who helped us put it there, risking their own health to keep us healthy.
If we can see each other only virtually at our Seder table, let us live to celebrate together again in the flesh.
If all we have is a L’chaim from the couch, let us be gentle with ourselves and say Dayenu.
If our children are afraid, let us remember it is our responsibility to comfort them, even when we ourselves are afraid and anxious.
If we are feeling isolated, help us to reach out and to extend a hand to those who need help.
As we retell the story of our oppression, let us remember those still oppressed.
May this time of hardship make us more compassionate, sympathetic,
And aware of our many blessings.
If all we do is say thank you to our healthcare workers, grocery clerks and garbage guys, Dayenu.
Let us not forget when this passes to remember the dignity and worth of everyone.
If this night is the moment in our lives that we taste slavery, let us celebrate freedom when it comes and not take for granted the rest of our days.
Help us, Ha Shem.
Hear us and see us.
Save us and save our dear ones.
Pass over us.
And let us say Amen.