Seder for one – and everyone was there

Seder for One - Photo by N.Bresler

Once upon a time, I loved having Seder. Then things changed. Life happens. And for years I was out of the Seder business. I like Pesach, love matzoh and macaroons. It was just Seder I could do without. Some years I got out of it by traveling – a pretty common trick around here. Other years I’d tell Family A that I was going to Family B for Seder. And of course I told Family B that I’d be with Family A.  That worked for a while, or at least I thought it did. Eventually I realized that families A and B and probably C and D had already figured out that I was not going to Seder and there was nothing they could do about it.

I had been planning to spend this Passover with my family in the States. Then COVID19 came along. Up until this week, I hadn’t thought too much about having a Seder. I figured I would just skip the whole thing, as I’ve done before. But with every phone call, WhatsApp and TV broadcast talking about it, Seder night became pretty hard to ignore. Friends asked how I, the Zoom Maven, could pass up participating in a Zoom Seder.

I live alone by choice, and most of the time, I’m fine with that. I am never lonely and never bored. That’s just me. I keep busy, and I wake up happy every day. I’ve been told that I’m annoyingly cheerful first thing in the morning. This long isolation has not been particularly hard on me, except for one or two bad days, like when I had to miss the birthday of my favorite 5-year-old…

But something came over me this week. Wednesday morning I cleared my home office paraphernalia off the dining table and spread out a white tablecloth. I went to the kitchen to make soup. Then a knock on the door brought a surprise visit from family members delivering a holiday package.  My little family stood at the far end of hallway as I opened the door and we shouted and waved and blew kisses. Suddenly I became a sopping mess of happy tears. Grateful again for the amazing people in my life.  I opened the bag to find my favorite Pesach foods – and the rarest of commodities: fresh eggs! Handmade cards and a colorful portrait of a Pesach unicorn were the crowning touches in the package. I rushed to the phone to tell friends how lucky and thankful I am.

Of course this was the topic of my daily phone call with my mom, who’s 93 and also in isolation. My sister was on her way to deliver a Seder basket to mom – with a hard-boiled egg, charoset and matzoh-ball soup. We reminisced about Seders past, and talked about what we each would do that evening. We joked about hiding the afikomen and wondering if we would find it. At our ages, there are a lot of family jokes about cognitive disfunction. By the end of the call, it was pretty clear that we would each be having Seder this year. We agreed to compare notes in the next day’s phone call. No going back, now.

So it took the zombie apocalypse to get me to hold my own seder. Little did I know when I started making the soup, that I would have Hila’s homemade matzoh balls to go with it. In the afternoon I set the table. I got out my ceramic matzoh dish, handmade by my talented friend, Dvora, and glazed in my favorite turquoise blue. Leafing through my stash of barely-used haggadahs took up the next part of the afternoon. I have a nice collection, acquired over the years in return for donations to various causes. Which one should I choose? The Akim and Children at Risk haggadahs have colorful children’s drawings. Another one has photos of archaeological artifacts and mosaics. I have a few social activism haggadahs, and some haggadahs festooned with logos – gifts from clients. Naturally, the fanciest one is from a bank.  I settled on one with a watercolor of spring flowers on the cover. Children at Risk, circa 2003.

Back to setting the table. Since there’s only one of me, I put everything out at once. I got out my blue and white Armenian pottery for the array of amazing foods, made by people I love: matbucha, tehina, beets and more. The delicacies in their little dishes made a kind of deconstructed seder plate. For karpas, I had lettuce leaves with a crystal cup of salt water in the center. Maror? I used the bright green zhug instead of horseradish. And best of all: Malka’s date and nut charoset as a centerpiece. A vegetarian feast.

I set up the laptop, ready to zoom. But that was too much for me. I positioned the TV so I could watch the heavily hyped “Seder of the Nation”.  That was a letdown: a star-studded extravaganza  packed with celebs and politicos, and commercial interruptions. When a former beauty queen turned up talking about her daily beauty routine in isolation, I turned off the TV and went it alone.  I belted out Ma Nishtana, unaware that people all over the country were shouting it from their balconies. I dipped, I read, I sang. Avadim Haeenu, HaLachma and Dayenu, I sang away.

Alone, but not at all lonely, I had a lovely Seder. I didn’t need Zoom, or the so-called Seder of the Nation. I didn’t need any of my people to break quarantine. They were all there with me, sitting around the table. Every part of the Haggadah reminded me of something or someone. I spent Seder night, as I spend each day in isolation, surrounded by people I love. At my Seder, my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings and friends were all there at once. My little apartment was crowded with all the people I am thankful to have with me, and those I am thankful to have had. Ma Nishtana, indeed.

About the Author
Nili Bresler is an active member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. In her spare time, she manages communications for the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives happily in Ramat Gan.
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