Jews-- We’ve Got This!
As Jews and their loved ones around the world contemplate holding virtual Passover seders this year, all I can think about is -- we’ve done this before. In fact, we do this with every holiday, and we will continue to do it long after COVID-19 disappears from our world (G!D willing).
What do I mean?
I mean that we are a global community and always have been. It’s what many Jews enjoy when we travel (Jewish geography!), what many non-Jews find so remarkable about us (you cared enough to lobby your senators about Jews living where?) and what many anti-Semites fear about us (worldwide Jewish conspiracy/ Elders of Zion/ fill in the blank…).
As a Jew, you are never alone. And that’s not only a Federation slogan; it’s literally true. We are and always have been a virtual community.
We are all connected in our minds and hearts through our shared values, holidays, life cycle events, rituals and history. That’s how we can feel connected to other Jews who don’t look like us, dress like us, speak our language and practice very different customs.
And now that my parents have passed away, I (like many of you with deceased loved ones) am connecting to them virtually as I think of them while lighting Shabbat and holiday candles or sitting down to enjoy a meal in the sukkah or at the seder.
My beloved parents are no longer with me physically, but I am connected to them through heart and mind and a thousand shared experiences from years past. In other words… virtually.
I don’t mean to make light of the challenge before us.
I know seders won’t be the same as when our loved ones sit physically with us, but I also know that with the proper mental framing, human beings can endure and even transcend virtually anything.
We are together… just not physically.
I also want to speak directly to those of you who will be having seder physically alone.
Miriam Lorie, a freelance Jewish educator based in London who is part of the Yeshivat Maharat Beit Midrash Programme, wrote a wonderful piece on the JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) blog reminding us that the first ever seder was held in isolation.
“None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning” were the words Moshe said to the Israelites the night before they left Egypt.
Outside their doors, a plague was coming, a plague which would cause a “great cry in Egypt,” the tenth and most awful plague, the one which would finally push Pharoah to release the Israelites from slavery. Therefore, to protect themselves, the Israelites were to:
“Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts… For when the LORD goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the LORD will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.” (Shemot/Exodus 12:22-23)…
Two weeks earlier, Moshe had said (and see how the Hebrew emphasizes the word for “home/ bayit” more than the English):
“Take a lamb to a family [your father’s home], a lamb to a household [home]. But if the household [home] is too small for a lamb, let them share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby, to his household [home], in proportion to the number of people.”
Then as today, the household unit became everything. And for small or solo households, then as today, we were called upon to share resources.
There was something about turning inwards, and being just in the home which shelters, and just with the other people who live there, which was deemed appropriate for the first ever Seder.
When the next verse says “You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants,” the Rabbis actually ask whether we are to paint our doorposts with blood as part of the way we practice Pesach forever, Pesach Dorot. I’m thankful that wasn’t the decision (I mean, we have some unusual laws, but lamb’s blood is something I’m thankful to read about rather than handle)….
This piece is not designed to sugar coat Seder 2020. Nobody wants seder this way. There is a reason that the Rabbis didn’t decide to legislate small home-based sedarim. For those on their own, single parents, people unable to make a seder for themself, people living with those they wouldn’t necessarily choose as seder buddies and others – it is going to be a particularly tough Pesach.
But given that we’re in this situation, perhaps some extra meaning can be found in connecting back with that first ever seder, held in isolation and trepidation at home…
This reminds me of my friend Beverlie who decided to rebrand “social isolation” as “home sanctuary.” And this is as far as my sugar-coating goes: home is currently where we are restricted, but also, now more than ever, it is our source of protection.
Isolation, in the first ever seder and today, reminds us that we are fortunate to have doorposts and a lintel protecting us from the destructive forces outside.
On this most unusual and unsettling Pesach, my hope is that in the strangeness and discomfort, we can connect in some way to our ancestors 3332 years ago, confined in their homes for the first ever Seder, held in isolation.
Today as then, may this period of turbulence lead, as soon as possible and with as many lives protected as possible, to a better world.
Like Miriam Lorie, I wish you an upcoming Pesach reframed—
remembering the virtual connections we have with other Jews around the globe every day,
recalling the virtual connections we share with our loved ones who have passed on,
feeling the virtual connections to other Jews celebrating Pesach in far-flung lands (as we always have),
and experiencing the beautiful traditions that allow us to transcend time and space in every age.
Wishing each of you
the strength of our ancestors,
the courage of our heroes,
the faith of our sages.
Next Year in Jerusalem!
Next Year in a World Redeemed from Pain and Sorrow!