Strange times are calling for stranger measures, but also opportunities. Every cloud has a silver lining, G-d closes a door and opens a window; if there is a time for clichés, this is it. COVID-19 has managed to change our lives and take us where we have never gone before. A surreal science fiction aura has fallen over our world. Face masks and solitude are now the norm rather than the exception. As we take on the fifth week of isolation, we continue to discover “senses” we often take for granted. The birds seem to chirp louder, food seems to taste and smell better, and the sky seems bluer and clearer. Our senses are working overtime. Our feelings are also in turmoil as we connect with family and friends we have ignored or lost touch with over the years. The urge to re-discover friendships and family even through a computer screen has risen to feverish proportions. This is also a time for “firsts”.
Until the virus compelled us to become hermits in our homes and neighborhoods, most of us would have been too busy to think beyond our immediate life bubble. We are the generation of multi-tasking, networking, and globalization. Outlook calendars manage our lives. I was and am no different. So when the opportunity arose to participate in Shabbat, I did not hesitate to take it.
Spending time with a dear friend in Haifa and being at the Kotel on Shabbat, opened my heart to the possibility that one day I may be allowed to participate at a Shabbat. That was four years ago. My BFF in Haifa describes Shabbat as a weekly act of thanksgiving. “Imagine all those voices being raised in prayer to G-d at the same time”, she said. I imagined and it left me speechless. She instilled this compelling urge to one day participate in this collective prayer to the Almighty.
In a twisted sort of way, COVID-19 became the conduit to my Shabbat experience and beyond. Isolation and quarantine put technology to the proverbial spiritual test, and gave me the chance to sit in on my first and consecutive Shabbat Fridays. Who’d have thought? Joined by others in our small military Jewish community in Germany, I watched, listened, prayed, and participated in the collective praise as described by my dearest friend. Getting closer to Pesach, and quarantined, our local military Rabbi decided to take Seder to another level. Thanks to web casts, we managed to “meet” and get guidance in doing Seder at home and in isolation.
As the hour long explanation on Haggadah progressed, I was not sure that I could take on this task, let alone do it justice. But I persevered. When the Rabbi asked if any of us required anything, my voice rose above all others. I needed everything. I didn’t have a Seder plate. What am I to wrap the matzah in? I’m vegetarian, what do I use instead of a shank? In his matter-of-fact Rabbinic patient way, our Rabbi told me not to worry because he would assist.
The Rabbi was good at his word. I left his office clutching a Seder plate and a beautiful embroidered Matzah cover like a coveted lottery ticket. Now I was on a mission. But questions remained. What to make as Charoses? My recipe for Charoses; figs, apple, walnuts, cinnamon (pinch), and a drop of wine…a successful YUM! The rest came natural to prepare; celery, parsley, horseradish, egg, and an undefined vegetable for the shank. Oy Vey! Finally the table had to be set. Short on first hand Seder know-how, I went to my friend: Google.
Sundown; table ready. Candles lit, matzah covered, Haggadah instructions on the ready, Seder plate in the middle of the table. Water jug prepared for the washing of hands, and salted water sitting in a bowl close by. A fine Baron de Rothschild red Bordeaux has been uncorked and placed prominently on the table. Plates, napkins, and freshly washed red wine glasses are at the ready. Kaddesh starts.
As my husband and I fumbled through the Haggadah we realized that this Seder would go down as a moment in our time. Following instructions, we managed to complete the Seder in an hour and a half. Sans singing but with fervent appreciation of the beautiful ritual, we felt in peace and union with the millions of Jews around the world. Albeit probably inept in doing a proper Seder, we were on par with the intention and the result. As we took turns to read, it dawned on us that this was also our story. The story of our faith forefathers’ freedom from slavery. Pesach gave us our destiny and our identity. A lesson in continuity recited by those who believe in our Judean heritage.
Why was this Seder different than others? Why did the story of the Exodus take a different meaning? Why is this also OUR story? We all have our questions, now more than ever. G-d works in mysterious ways. The virus seems to have mellowed us. We seem more patient, kinder, calmer, and able to take on the world with a little more tolerance. We are appreciating those who are so often invisible to our selfish and egoistic habits. Doctors, nurses, teachers, care givers, grocery store workers, trash collectors, mail men and women, our military, and those who normally disappear from our minds the minute we are served by any of them. Now we thank them and give them recognition. We are united in angst but also in kindness.
As I put away my matzah cloth and Seder plate, I wonder if I would use them again next year. All the panic and fear will become history soon enough. We will eventually go back to being our former selves, or not.. We are all looking forward to going back to “normal” whatever that was. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I know that I will somehow yearn for the opportunity to again prepare Seder. Will the world go back to the selfishness and narcissism so prevalent in recent years? Will we be praying to G-d as fervently as we are praying right now? Will we once again put Him on the back burner of our lives? We shall see. In the meantime; Pesach Sameach!