How We Created Joy and New Traditions Within a Quarantined Passover
For our seder, we traveled to my aunt and uncle’s house, where I was the youngest of five cousins and the only girl. Singing this song was a tradition for the youngest child, a chance to prove I held an important role in our family.
I knew the words by heart, but I was also extremely shy. I eked out a few lines when the spotlight turned to me but, overcome with stage fright, became too scared to continue. My parents joined in, and with newfound confidence, I made it to the end.
Although I had envisioned myself singularly impressing the entire group with my Hebrew singing, it would be a while before I felt comfortable doing so. My parents or cousins joined me throughout the next several years, thus beginning a new tradition for our family.
Together, year after year, we asked the same question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The answer was always the same, rooted in the notion that we make changes – such as eating matzah, instead of leavened bread – to remember our ancestors’ journey from slavery to freedom.
Until this year, I dedicated little thought to my ancestors’ feelings on the day they fled. When they hurried to leave their lives of bondage, yanking bread out of ovens before it could rise and thus creating the first matzahs. When they abandoned the only lives they knew to journey into the unknown.
Almost everything feels unknown this year, as we blindly navigate the coronavirus pandemic. Should we protect ourselves with masks? Were we standing six feet away from the neighbor we passed on yesterday’s walk? Can we safely bring in packages delivered two days ago?
Jewish life is rooted in community. We require groups of 10 to pray during the worst of times, when we lose our loved ones, and we gather hundreds together to celebrate the happiest of times, such as bar mitzvahs or weddings.
Jewish life is not meant for isolation – yet here we are, unable to come within six feet of grandparents or friends.
In the days leading up to Passover, the stress of our isolation became compounded by our inability to celebrate this holiday in the only ways we knew. Physical seats at the seder table would remain empty.
Our trusted online delivery service ran out of both matzah and matzah meal, leaving me unable to place the two things that my children will eat on the table: plain matzah and matzah ball soup. Anything else would be a toss-up, and I did not want to spend my time alone in the kitchen to cook something my children might (read: probably not) eat, when I could instead join them in the playroom to make memories.
Indeed, the chance to slow down and make memories is the silver lining of this quarantine.
We decided to throw convention out the window and find a new way to share the Passover story. Instead of sitting at the dinner table, we built a fort in the playroom using a miniature easel and kitchen for the walls. We draped queen-size sheets over the top for a cozy feeling. We turned off the lights and read a children’s Haggadah by flashlight. Grammy and Grandma FaceTimed for the occasion.
Our seder was different from anything we previously experienced, and even from the suddenly standard virtual seders flooding social media.
Our seder was simultaneously unusual and joyous. We giggled as we huddled within our makeshift shelter. We sang “Dayenu,” shrouded by the comfort of God’s many miracles.
The lyrics remind us that, while each act of kindness and protection would have been enough, God continued, freeing us from Egyptian slavery, giving us our Ten Commandments and leading us to Israel. We discussed how God did not abandon the Jews during their exodus from Egypt, and that God would not abandon us now amidst a worldwide health crisis.
Yes, our seder was different from anything we ever experienced, and some would not even call it a seder at all. But instead of longing for traditions of years past, we reveled in the joy that comes with stepping away from convention and creating new rituals that hold deep symbolic meaning – just like the Jews who fled Egypt so many years ago.
We will join extended family for seders next year – but during these days of Passover, I will make sure that we build our fort again, where we can share the stories of our ancestors’ journey thousands of years ago, as well as our own during that spring of uncertainty.
Visit our Judaism Under Quarantine page for ideas for engaging with and embracing your Judaism during these uncertain times,