Emily Zinkin
Emily Zinkin

Pesach, pandemic and thresholds

Jewish holiday Passover background with matzo, seder plate, wine and tulip flowers on wooden table. Top view from above. (Jewish News)
Jewish holiday Passover background with matzo, seder plate, wine and tulip flowers on wooden table. Top view from above. (Jewish News)

Thresholds are liminal scenes – they exist between and outside of everyday spaces, hovering. Airports, train stations and waiting rooms. But more recently I began thinking of how time is far more liminal, and how certain times are particular thresholds. The pandemic we’re living through is all-consuming but it will also pass, and that is particularly important to remember with Pesach coming up. It will be our second Pesach in lockdown, marking a full cycle of festivals like no other; both too little like previous years as many of us are separated from our loved ones to keep them safe, and too much like the story that gave us Pesach, as a plague continues to afflict the world. 

We sit at the threshold of a new world, having experienced a seismic alteration to our lives and routines we simply can’t ignore. The hope and promise of vaccines and a return to our communities is just over the horizon. But as we approach our seder tables to celebrate our freedom from slavery, we also remember that during this modern-day plague, the Angel of Death did not pass over everyone. This time, my brother fell ill with Covid—almost hospitalised—but whilst we are deeply grateful that he recovered, many have not. Our new world will be one filled with grief as well as potential, and we will step through the threshold as strangers. 

In fiction and in the Pesach story, thresholds are often very physical, like the wardrobe to Narnia and the banks of the Red Sea, whilst others are a gesture (Frodo taking the ring and Moses taking off his shoes before the burning bush), or a revelation causing a shift in mindset (Harry learning about the wizarding world and that he is a wizard himself, and Moses fleeing his princely life after learning he is Hebrew). Whether it’s the call to action or the creation and conceptualisation of a new world, any great story involves several thresholds that the characters cannot step back through, because the act of stepping through the first has changed them permanently. 

 Thresholds from the audience’s perspective are thrilling; they signal that the adventure is about to start, and that we are about to embark on it with the characters. As we prepare to emerge out of the liminal space of lockdown into a post-pandemic society we will have to take time to adjust and be aware that it is not a return to normal, but a new adventure. 

There’s a reason we love fictional thresholds so much, and why the story of the Exodus holds particular meaning in our ancestors’ journey from slavery to freedom. A character’s life being turned upside down is an opportunity to escape from our own lives. But these thresholds can also help to guide us to our own. Now we need to look at the narratives – from the Exodus story to Extinction Rebellion – to guide us through this liminal time and out into a better world. 

What can we bring with us into the new world? From homelessness to healthcare being linked and universal rather than individual issues, to productivity and employability having to adjust for our wellbeing and not just focusing on the organisation’s, the past year is scattered with lessons for us to learn. 

Our global lockdown has put the world in a terrifying liminal space, and whilst most of us will see the other side of it, many have not been passed over by this new hand of death. We need to be kinder and gentler with each other and our society, and we need to work out how we can take our globalised world and make it one that works together to benefit everyone. 

We are commanded from Genesis to Deuteronomy to pursue justice, and that we must look after the stranger as we ourselves were once strangers in a strange land. From quarantine we will all emerge as strangers into a strange land once more, and we must make sure it is a just world past the threshold. 

About the Author
Emily Zinkin is a resident of Moishe House London - Clapham, where she builds vibrant Jewish community for and with young adults. She is also a Human Rights Fellow of Rene Cassin. Her writing has appeared in multiple publications including The Phase, The Free Association, Femsplain and Lip Magazine. She has also previously been a writer and editor for The F Word.
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