• Rachel

Why is this Night Different? Seder in the time of Corona

When I was 16, my grandmother died two days before Passover and despite our shortened mourning period, my grandfather insisted that we have a seder. My fuzzy memories of that seder include numbly sitting around the table in our living room, trying hard to conjure any kind of holiday resolve. Yet, despite our haphazard preparations and grieving spirits, there was a unifying sense among us, a sense of direction or structure. We had a "manual" of tradition and order to guide us with an underlying sense that it would carry us through to better days ahead.

The funny thing is, I felt more comfort from that mournful Seder long ago, than I do now. To utter the crown jewel question, Why is this Night Different?, is a complete understatement, because its irony is palpable when celebrating a holiday of order (the meaning of the word "seder") in a world of complete pandemonium. We are living through something where there is no structure, a situation that is constantly referred to as "fluid." This is a holiday where we celebrate freedom and yet most of us are confined, while we worry about an invisible"plague." The similarities and their contradictions are almost laughable.

Typically, at this point, two weeks out to Passover, my freezer is empty and ready to receive its Passover stash. I have moved all the dishes out of my cabinet and filled it with Passover dry goods and I am relishing new recipes as I comb one blog after another with mouthwatering desserts and artful displays of chicken soup.

Alas, things look very different this year. My freezer is full of frozen waffles, vegetarian nuggets, and bread due to the fear of a possible quarantine. I stopped looking at websites because honestly, they stressed me out. Passover, will look different this year and that's okay. I haven't really heard anyone say it officially, so let me be the first. It's okay. We are living in an ongoing situation where intent becomes far more important than perfection in order to maintain and/or renew our faith in difficult times, any way we can.

Perhaps my grandfather sensed that when he insisted on a seder all those years ago.

As humans, we desperately need structure. I am no different. I mourn the normalcy we enjoyed as little as three weeks ago. Our world feels to be spinning off its axis with an invisible virus as its puppeteer. There are anxious days and for the first time, the story of Passover , the pandemonium and fear felt by both Israelite and Egyptian becomes so much more real to me. It's no longer allegorical, or just required reading that religiously legitimizes a celebratory meal. This year, my anxiety over whether the soup is too salty, or if my chicken is dry is non existent. Instead, with my one leftover container of chicken soup, and 5 lb box of matzah (that's about all I have) along with my husband and kids safely sitting around the table, I will truly understand and appreciate why this night is so different.

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