We are navigating unprecedented times. It is commonplace to see neighbors wearing masks as they walk the streets of Los Angeles, children learning and connecting over every virtual platform, and to receive the often, devastating news that yet, another person has contracted COVID-19. Even more commonplace are the cancellations: canceled weddings, concerts, gatherings of any size. On Sunday, our family got into the car and orchestrated “drive-by” play dates. Our children’s friends stood in their respective driveways as we waved from the car windows.
It was the highlight of our day. What has this world come to?
And yet, I refuse to let Passover become one of the canceled “activities”. As a mother and rabbi, I feel an urgency to ensure that Passover doesn’t fall through the cracks. For those that cook with endless eggs, put on elaborate family holiday meals, or find deep enjoyment in inviting newcomers to the seder dinner table, an isolated Passover experience sounds less than appealing. One might even call it burdensome or depressing. Can a Passover celebration with just one or two be classified as a celebration at all?
But perhaps, we are misconstruing the messages and meaning of Passover. While this pandemic may be unparalleled, the Jewish people is no stranger to experiencing religious commemorations under duress and guise. A byproduct of the Passover seder includes a large, festive family experience. But the real message of the Exodus is a reminder that when immersed in the darkest of shadows, we must rise through with an enduring faith. Even alone. Just one or two people can transform a nightmare into a dream of freedom and hope.
It’s time to take back Passover.
Think about the midwives in the story of Passover. Throughout Egypt, the decree is given to kill the Hebrew baby boys. Murderous cries are heard all over the land. But two women determine to change the course of history. Shifra and Puah defy Pharaoh’s orders, bringing new life into a land ridden with evil and death. Two women that refuse to sit still. Two women holding the Jewish future in their hands.
Think about Michael Kutz as he attempts to observe Passover in the forest with 22 other Jewish partisans. It was April 1942. As the youngest, he leads Mah Nishtana, answering his own question. “Why was this night different from all other nights? Because last Passover all the Jews sat with their families at tables beautifully set with matzah and goblets of red wine. Last year, each of us had a goblet on our plate and listened to the oldest person in our household conduct the seder. Tonight, in the forest, our lonely and orphaned group, having miraculously survived, remembers our loved ones who were taken from us forever.” Under the threat of the Nazi regime, Michael understands he is living the story of the Exodus. That one day, he would taste freedom, liberated, no longer enslaved by the tyrannies of mankind. One person. One decision. Determined to see Judaism survive under the bleakest of times.
Think about Rabbi Shimon and Yente Lasker, co-directors of Beth Chabad of Brussels. During the Passover after the March 22, 2016 terror attacks on the Brussels airport and metro station, the conversation ensued whether it was safe or not to gather. But the Jewish leaders decided to host their seders, inviting all, stranger and friend to celebrate the festival of freedom. Their motivations were clear. No matter the circumstance, the Jewish people will not hide. Even through terror, tradition manifests throughout the generations; through the righteous acts of one or two very brave souls.
Celebrating alone may not seem courageous. And yet, in this climate, celebrating alone may be the most courageous act one can do. Reading the Haggadah, creating a makeshift seder plate, joining a virtual seder, singing verses of Mah Nishtana, or even drinking four glasses of wine is embracing the true message of the holiday of Passover. It doesn’t matter what your seder looks like, as long as you decide to have a seder. Under persecution or under quarantine, nothing must stop the Jewish people from singing, praying, learning, living. Even when no one is watching. All the more so, it is the continuity of Jewish ritual that grows and shapes our Jewish souls.
At this very time, it is our decisive action that will determine the future character of this modern generation of Jews. Do we buckle when our traditions feel threatened? Or do we rise like the generations before us, knowing that we come from a lineage of Jews that chose to thrive when faced with darkness and destruction?
Be Shifra or Puah. Be Michael Kutz. Be Rabbi Shimon Lasker. Be an individual that holds onto Pesach to ensure our grandchildren have a Pesach to celebrate. Be someone that holds onto faith, written as a character in this surreal story that is sorely in need of a miracle.
It’s our turn. It’s our time. Take back Passover. Redemption starts with you.