David Groen
David Groen

The lessons I learned from last years Seder in solitude

In a year in which a global pandemic has taken the lives of so many, an additional element, one more diverse and more universal in its scope, yet often overlooked in discussion, is that of opportunities or moments lost. If going into last Passover you had asked me what moment I would likely forever look at as one of those moments lost, sitting alone on the first 2 nights of Passover would undoubtedly be near the top of the list. However, as I sit here today, days away from the next Passover Seder, I can’t help but be amazed at the fact that last year was not only far from sad, it was downright meaningful.

In accessing the memory drive in my brain, I tried to think back to previous Passovers and consider if I had ever spent a Seder night alone. I am pretty certain that not only had I never done so, I do not believe I ever spent one where I was not with family. One year in Israel I was not with parents or siblings, but I was with a cousin who to be honest, is practically a sibling to me, So when I look to last year, not only was I not with family, as someone who lives alone, I found myself sitting home alone. With the pandemic reaching its peak around the time that the holiday started in 2020, being alone and safe was hardly the end of the world, but I suspected that in some way I would always be, at the very least, melancholy when remembering my Seders in solitude. That was not the case at all, because what I learned last year during Passover made what was already one of my favorite holidays, even more special to me, As much of a family holiday as it has always been for me and for any of us blessed to have a family that gathers for the holiday, it was last year when I realized that what truly makes a Seder is not the people you sit with, but the table on which you sit.

Granted there are those who see Passover primarily as a family holiday and what makes a Seder a Seder is getting together with friends and family. It is without question a wonderful part of the holiday. However, when we look at the time we spend together, it’s important to identify what it is we call the gathering that takes place the first nights, of Passover. The word Seder means order. Well I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I think of family get togethers the word order is not what comes to mind. Fun? Sure. Memorable? Often. Chaotic, unpredictable, tense? Not out of the question. Orderly? Not usually. To be frank, if you want the theme of a family gathering to be order, I’m not sure I envy you. All of this is part of the challenge of Passover. How do you enjoy the group you sit with while telling a story at a ceremony named for the word order?

Well last year I did not have that challenge. Do I prefer being with family and or friends? Of course I do. Everything in life is better when done in the company of people you care about. But the opportunity to focus on the Seder plate, gain more understanding of the items representing the holiday, and to actually study the history of how the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt, made it a Passover I will never forget. Granted I knew it would be that going into it, but I never considered it would be one I would not forget more for good reasons than for bad. I am by no means advocating spending Passover alone, but if you find yourself in that position this year or in any year that follows, know that if there is a holiday structured for potential solitude, this is the one.

Should anyone reading this find themselves alone this year, I offer this message. In difficult times when we search for reasons to be hopeful, the story we read in the Passover Haggadah can offer us guidance and perspective. It is the story of miracles, redemption, and a brighter future. Most of all it is the story of freedom When we truly immerse ourselves in the story and rituals of the Seder, as wonderful as it is to be with those we love, we are right where we need to be on the first nights of Passover, and to understand how fortunate we are to be free, we can reach a place of peace and fulfillment.

Wishing you all a Happy, healthy and meaningful Passover.

About the Author
David Groen is the youngest of 5 children and the author of "Jew Face: A Story of love and heroim in Nazi-occupied Holland"
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