This Year In Jerusalem: A Very Special Passover

When I finished last year’s Seder with the words L’Shanah Haba’ah Bi’Yrushalayim Habnuyah- Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem– I never allowed myself to imagine that I might actually be spending Passover, 5772 in anywhere other than Forest Hills. Of course, were the Messiah to arrive, I would be ready to relocate, but absent that miraculous intervention in history, I didn’t see myself going anywhere for the holiday.

But here it is, just a few hours before my wife and I will be leaving for the airport. For the first time since I’ve been in Forest Hills– thirty-one years – I am leaving my community for the holiday. And Jerusalem is, indeed, where we’re going.

Those of you who read my columns regularly will surely know by now that my wife and I have spent the better part of this year adjusting to a suddenly very empty nest. Our four children are spread out quite literally around the world. Our oldest son, with his wife and two children, is a practicing rabbi in Orlando, Florida; our older daughter is married to a Navy chaplain stationed in Okinawa, Japan; our next oldest daughter is a third-year at Barnard College, but is spending this spring semester in Copenhagen; and our youngest son is doing a gap year in Israel, and will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall. It has been a year of tremendous adjustment for us. What was, not that long ago, a noisy house, suddenly transformed into a very different environment. No, not entirely unpleasant… but very different. We are slowly coming to terms with this new phase of our lives.

But coming to terms with an empty nest is a very different challenge from confronting the prospect of Passover sedarim with no children at home. If only symbolically, those empty chairs at the Seder table loomed as a much more painful adjustment to make. Passover is such a family holiday… it feels to us like we have spent so many years doing everything we could to create a Passover experience for our children that they would not only treasure, but want to pass on to their own children. Now they’re off doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, and I have no problem with that–none at all. It’s just odd and unsettling not to have them around, particularly for this holiday.

This persistent and not so subtle ache combined with an equally not so subtle yearning to have a year’s respite from making two large Seders. We’ve been doing that for thirty years, and have loved it. Those people, both family and friends from the congregation, who are regulars at our Seder table regard our Seder as their Passover experience. I love that they do, and so does my wife. But thirty years of two large Seders… this is a holiday on which we celebrate redemption! One year, my wife said… could we have one year? And I realized that what she was saying was totally true. If we were ever going to take a break from the Passover routine that we have always known, this had to be the year. A son in Israel, a daughter in Okinawa who’s longing for some family time, another daughter who would happily come from Copenhagen to Jerusalem…

I tried, at first, to organize a Passover trip from my synagogue. We’ve done so many congregational trips to Israel together… what could be better than this, I thought? Well — everyone thought it was a great idea, but when push came to shove, many people were reluctant to leave their families, and it was simply too expensive to bring them all along. I still think that a congregational trip for Passover, making Seder together in Jerusalem, would be a spectacular experience. But it wasn’t going to happen this year.

To its great credit- and for this I am most grateful- the leadership of my synagogue recognized how badly we wanted to see our children, and when the group trip idea fell through, they were fine with my family going ahead with its grand plan- our private little “ingathering of the exiles.” Our two daughters have, as of this writing, already landed in Israel and re-united with our son. We’ve got one foot out the door as I write. And the sweet bonus to this grand plan is that we will be having Seder with my sister and her entire family in Rehovot, where they’ve lived since 1978. I think it’s been close to forty years since we’ve had Seder together. Such a z’chut for us all! Such a privilege!

As I said, I could never have imagined that this idea would crystallize in such spectacular fashion. I owe its success largely to my wife, who allows herself to think grander thoughts than I, the practical thinker, ever would. But now that the plan is unfolding, I see the inner wisdom of what she was thinking. When all is said and done, it’s about family, and going to extraordinary lengths to maintain connections even after your children have left home. The only sorry note is that our son and daughter-in-law in Orlando, and their beautiful children, can’t join us, and also our son-in-law, who is being deployed from Okinawa to service Jewish military personnel around the Pacific Rim. Our hearts are with them all.

To all of us, wherever we may be- my very best wishes for a chag kasher v’sameach. May we find ourselves together with the ones we love on this great holiday, and is so doing, may we taste the sweetness of freedom and redemption!

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.