This Passover, like last, is different from all others. Our family bypassed pre-seder congestion on the Long Island Expressway by virtue of never having left Long Island. My parents' house has been a haven since we fled our small Manhattan apartment shortly before last year's Passover.
Traditionally, this holiday marks the start of spring, a season of renewal. Last year, however, renewal was nowhere in sight. By the beginning of Passover 2020, the world had shut down. We went through the usual motions, but there was a heightened sense of alarm as the world faced an ever-expanding virus.
Friends and relatives were exiled to mere windows on an iPad. The technical glitches of muting and unmuting represented our overall sense of disarray. Zoom seders meant tastes and flavors could only be shared virtually; the aroma and steam from endless servings of matzo ball soup had evaporated.
Worse than the separation itself was a heavy cloud of loss. Hospitals were overcrowded; loved ones were dying. In the Haggadah, the seder script, we read how "in every generation enemies sought to destroy us" but that God has always saved us. Yet, last Passover we were in the midst of encountering a different type of enemy, a tiny, viral plague, so powerful and so devastating.
Throughout 2020's seders, I found myself recalling my earliest pre-Passover memory: sitting in the back of my dad's Toyota Camry, listening to a Jewish cassette tape in between kosher-for-Passover food runs to King Kullen. Each seder song had an introductory line that I recall as much as the melodies themselves: "The word seder means ‘order.’ "
I was captivated by comfort in the order of the seder, uplifted by the melodies and the familiarity of its rituals (two of the steps are handwashing, which was pandemically ironic). Although our seder table was eerily empty without the two extra tables that normally feel like they stretch all the way to the East End, we still had our prescribed seder rites. The ritual of the seder provided a small sense of comfort in making order in a world where there was too much chaos.
This Passover, from behind our masks, we are beginning to feel spring in the air; we are emerging from this year of a blurry winter slumber. With grandparents receiving vaccinations and others beginning to follow, for some families, there might be more of a semblance of seder this year.
My vaccinated grandmother dropped by this week. As I helped my mother schlep kosher for Passover ingredients to the kitchen, I heard an impromptu rendition of the song "Dayeinu" (meaning "It would have been enough") coming from the den. My kids joined Grandma in belting out this Passover favorite, expressing gratitude, even in dark times, making up for lost time and creating special intergenerational moments.
While this year's seders mark the anniversary of being in the vortex of the pandemic, my wish is that our holidays will be filled with spiritual order and hope. Many of us still cannot be physically together, but the order of the seder rites provides us with glimmers of comfort for a better tomorrow — that redemption from this pandemic will come speedily.
Rabbi Yael Buechler is the lower school rabbi at The Leffell School in Westchester and founder of MidrashManicures.com.
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