Warsaw, it was 1990 or 1991, the restaurant “Menora”, the only Jewish restaurant in Poland at that time, and the first Seder Pesach I remember. I was the youngest of the community crowd singing “Ma nishtana?”.
Tel Aviv, 2020 – I will be the youngest again, alone at home. I will sing it again.
I look like my grandmother Pesah, who I have never met, as she died when my mother was only fourteen. At this time of the year, she was making matzot herself at home, pinching them with a fork, to make sure they did not grow and did not become chametz. She was also preparing hard eggs and salty water. And was singing beautifully along, as my mother recalls. But she had never explained why she was preparing these different foods, this time of the year. It was in deep Russia, in the forties and early fifties, where they had survived the war. Where no one could celebrate Pesach, but my grandmother Pesah, did each year, to some extent, on her own.
I have been growing parsley for Layla Seder, at my apartment in Tel Aviv, during my so far three weeks of quarantine (demanded on me, by my imperfect immune system); I have apples, walnuts, honey, and cinnamon, to make charoset, the way we always. I have matzah, milk, and eggs (lucky me, with the shortage of eggs in Israel), so as every year on Pesach will make the matzah broch (matzah brei), just the way my grandfather Bencjan use to do. The only difference, I will eat it on my own.
My mother has just asked me: “For who will I make matzo balls this year? Just for myself?”…
My flight ticket was canceled. The sky is closed.
This Passover is challenging, to all of us. Many will connect online; those who are orthodox will not, which I can only imagine will be harder even more.
This year’s Seder we will demand of us lots of self-discipline, for many of us to do it alone. And to transmit some Pesach joy via Skype, Facebook or Zoom, to our parents, who are on the other part of the world, or in the same city, but also alone.
This Passover is hard for older people, who often went through so much in their lives that they cannot comprehend why “this corona” is different from other horrible things they witnessed or experienced before. Talking to many of my friends, I hear the same, that older parents simply cannot understand, why they cannot take a walk, “why are young people panicking”? “Why can’t they invite for tea, a volunteer who brings them a box of the matzah?” “It’s impolite, not to open the door”… – says my mother.
Before each Passover, I try to close everything I can, to enter the Holiday of Freedom, really mentally free. But this year it feels different than other years. Because it is impossible to free your mind from the concern about people we love. And we don’t know when we will see them, again.
But we must try to find the internal joy, hope, and trust, and as Moses did, we will cross the Red Sea, we will pass over this plague (I guess dipping finger in wine ten times, tomorrow night, will never feel more realistic…), and the next year we will be really free. Together and free.
Pesach in quarantine, but Sameach!