The Pesach manicure that wasn’t

For the past 20 years or so, Pesach (Passover) preparation, that search for any lingering cookie crumb, has been synonymous with scrubbing, scraping and squeezing the last bits of stubborn built-up oven grease combined with dried food from the inside of the oven door. Not exactly a hand-friendly activity, even with rubber gloves.

As a preschool teacher in a Jewish preschool in the States, the time between Purim and Pesach became a Hagaddah factory, as we assisted 20 5 year-olds painstakingly write and design 25 pages of their own Hagaddah in English and Hebrew as a testament to eight months of inventive spelling, Jewish knowledge and integrated curriculum.

One year, at the end of a particularly hectic Pesach Hagaddah ‘crunch,’ after all the Hagaddot had been sent home with their eager owners, my supervisor gave each teacher a surprise in his or her teacher mailbox: a gift certificate to get a manicure at a nearby establishment. I remember going into that store before the holiday, my hands tired and dry from assembling 20 Hagaddot, nails brittle from coaxing dry food from my own stovetop, mesmerized by the endless rows of shiny nail polishes for the choosing. Would it be a demure combination of white and pale pink this Pesach? Or a vivid red-orange to welcome the springtime?

Sitting in the client’s chair, manicurist across from me, was a gift to my worn-out hands. It was the first time during the holiday preparation period in which I could heave a sigh of relief, proverbially patting myself on the back that it was done. Hagaddot had been sent home, my stovetop was shining, and a Pesach of friends and family awaited me. No matter where I was currently living at the time, I would always get this pre-Pesach manicure to signify the end of the preparation and the beginning of the celebration.

Until this Pesach.

This year, as Pesach draws near, I find myself a bit numb. Preparation is getting done, everything is being cleaned. My hands, if they could talk, would be confused. There is no thought to a pre-Pesach manicure. The Ministry of Health has closed nail salons. And with hundreds dying daily in Israel, New York and worldwide and countless health workers giving their heart and souls daily to treat victims, a manicure seems like a frivolous and fleeting pastime enjoyed in ‘regular’ times when one could walk with no distance limitations, meet a friend over a cup of coffee, or simply be able to walk outside sans plastic gloves and mask.

Or linger. Linger with my airpods on a long walk amid Jerusalem’s gorgeous hills, hits of the 90’s pulsating in my brain, linger with a friend over a long-winded story and a glass of wine, linger in bustling downtown Jerusalem, watching tour groups from countless countries wander through the Old City, linger while watching the pulse of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market throb with those young and old, tourists and locals buying from stands selling fresh produce as far as the eye could see. Linger with my husband and watch the sun set on the Tel-Aviv beach, something that he wants to do after ‘this’ is all over.

But what is ‘this’? It’s the uncertainty, and the wishful thinking. It’s the yearning to be at a seder with grandchildren who will sing their hearts out when it comes time to the Four Questions, and to hug them after their performance as only grandparents can. Its the ease of family spread across the world uniting at a seder in Israel, or spending the holiday at a Pesach program in Venice, with countless other strangers who are really family because you share their customs and Pesach tunes. And it’s the knowledge that of course, in 2020, how could anything slow us down?

Or so we thought.

Here we are, however, three months into this year, discussing Zoom Seders to promote family bonding and Pesach laws that fly in the face of pikuach nefesh, or the biblical derivative to save a life. We are grateful not for that gorgeous mint green wrap dress that we will wear for Seder night but for the lush greenery we see outside our windows as springtime graces every corner of the city, its blooming flowers oblivious to the strain and pain felt by so many at this time.

It is this foliage that beckons us to keep going, to soldier on. That now it is time to appreciate what we have, to reach out to others- metaphorically speaking of course-  to do what we can to raise morale until the day comes when we can once again go to school and work and synagogue services, pinch our grandchildren’s cheeks, dance like crazy at weddings and even have the luxury once again to take our daily grind for granted- including choosing between two nail polish colors in the nail salon.

Wishing a Happy Passover and Chag Sameach to all.

This piece is dedicated to to all of the brave healthcare workers worldwide. Thank you for all that you do.  May you have continued strength to carry on.

About the Author
Jill Batya Virag Samuels made aliyah in 2016 from New York City and resides in Jerusalem.
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