Ma nishtana

Thoughts at this time of the year always seem to turn to Passovers past.

Cherished memories of Seders at my grandma’s, with a gaggle of aunts, uncles and cousins, then at our house, with a circle of close friends who became family, crammed around the table, but always room for one more.

On Passover we often fancied ourselves like the group in Deborah Uchill Miller’s beloved holiday classic, Only Nine Chairs, a rollicking tale of a Seder with too many guests and not enough seats, and the riotous race to find places to put them. In the sink, on the counter, in the loo? Our kids giggled and giggled as we read and reread the story, and we did too.

So this year, with all of us sequestered at home, families far and wide – and even those nearby who can’t risk being too close as the Corona virus stalks us – are distant. And those memories of Passovers with the warmth of loved ones around the table become ever more precious and nostalgically recalled. And I long for those days of only nine chairs.

Ma Nistana, we ask, why is this night, this year, different? My dear friend who usually cleans and cooks for almost 40 and is now down to two. My cousin who makes gefilte fish from scratch, now halving his recipe, and halving it again, and still with more than enough for the entire week. And us, bereft, with nary a child or grand at home.

It’s easy to allow the new reality of COVID-19 to cast a pall over a holiday that celebrates freedom even as we feel we’ve been thrust, like the ancient Israelites, into its narrows. It’s easy to let go the precise order of the service when there seems to be no order in the world. It’s easy to be despondent on a night when we are obligated to tell a story to our children, and theirs, and they are not here to hear it. It is easy to feel dejected on a night when we ask what makes this night different and recite the ways that make it significantly so, when this night, this year, the difference is decidedly sadly so.

And yet, the holiday, with its hope of redemption, reminds that like our forebears, we will find our way out of the narrows, that we will regain the structure that orders our world, that we will tell the story, in new and perhaps more engaging ways, because that is what we do. And we will invest this night, this year, with renewed meaning.

We remember, and we journey on.

Because that, too, is the meaning and message of the holiday.

And so this year, we gather around screens instead of tables. We reimagine the Seder virtually, rapping with the Maccabeats and singing along with Frozen. Retelling the story with the Lion King and searching for the afikoman with Jake Gyllenhaal.

And laughing,and singing, and talking, even as there only two seats at our table but so many loving faces on the screen.

And remembering that this year, for all of us who are blessed to celebrate, it is dayenu.

It is enough.

More than enough.

And next year, together with family.

About the Author
A writer and editor, Vicki has been recognized for excellence by the American Jewish Press Association, Arizona Press Club and Arizona Press Women. Her byline has appeared for more than 30 years in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix and in a variety of other publications. A Wexner Heritage Scholar, she holds masters degrees in communications and religious studies from Arizona State University and a Ph.D in religious studies also from ASU.
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