Although the Jewish calendar is full of important holidays, Passover is arguably the most important. The Jewish exodus from Egypt to freedom in Israel is the seminal event in Jewish history, and as Jews re-enact their ancestors’ oppression, living through the plagues, and eventually reaching their freedom in this climatic story, they reiterate the importance of remembering the past and using it to guide the future. Again and again, historical events – particularly the Holocaust, or HaShoah – are interpreted through the lens of Passover.
Because I was raised as a Christian, I have long been familiar with the biblical story, and for many years I’ve been reading children’s books about Passover to the yeladim of many different Jewish families. I already knew what was on the seder plate and why, I knew the ingredients in charoset, I had purged homes of chametz (wheat products, which are prohibited during passover), and hunted for the last of it with a flashlight and a feather. But previously during Passover, I had always taken advantage of the time off to take a trip somewhere far-away and exotic, and now, as an almost-Jew on the brink of leaving my own country in pursuit of a better future somewhere far away, I was ready to make the story of Passover intimate to myself and experience the holiday for the first time.
Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, I had tickets booked for a two-week trip to Israel to spend Pesach with Udi and his family. Udi and I both looked forward to this trip as a chance to not only spend precious time with each other during Israel’s beautiful springtime, but for me to participate in an important piece of Judaism all together with Udi’s family. Although I’ve traveled to Elat and had birthday parties and Shabbat dinners with Udi’s family, I was excited to have my first seder with them as the first of many family seders in Israel.
Well. Obviously none of that happened. In the weeks leading up to Passover, I was in total denial that the trip would have to be cancelled. But as the situation unraveled around the world, and visitors to Israel were compelled to enter a mandatory 14-day quarantine, eventually Udi and I made the decision to cancel the tickets, which really sucked – to say the least.
But, as Jews have been doing for millennia, we made the best of it. All of Udi’s family called into a Zoom meeting for the seder. Udi’s father read the Hagaddah, and we sang and clapped along to Dayenu with the kids. There was a lot of yelling and background noise, so I couldn’t actually hear much of what Udi’s abba was saying, but I followed along in my Hagaddah and Udi’s mother toasted me specifically for “Next year in Jerusalem” – a phrase Jews in the diaspora say every year at the end of the seder. It wasn’t what I had expected, but it was still really quite lovely to see everyone at once and be together to the extent that we could.
Because in the diaspora, the holidays last for two days instead of one, I also had a second seder with the family I work with. In the days leading up to Passover, M (the mother of the kids I nanny) and I had spent many hours cleaning the house, collecting the chametz to sell, moving all the regular cooking equipment down to the crawl space, bringing the Pesach stuff upstairs, and preparing the kitchen – kashering the sink, lining all the surfaces with plastic tablecloths, etc. On the last night before Passover, M hid ten Cheerios in the basement and sent the yeladim downstairs with flashlights to find and then burn the chametz. We were prepped and ready.
During this second seder, parents and family friends called in on Zoom while we ate in the dining room. Kids from a couple of families all took turns asking the questions (which, apparently, I’ve known for years because I used to sing them all the time with T&J’s kids – I just had no idea what I was saying until now. Ha!) For the sake of the kids, the long seder was highly truncated, but we still had matzah ball soup and other deliciousness, and the table was covered in little plastic finger puppets that symbolized the plagues.
Although Passover this year was indeed a night very different from other nights, it was a truly wonderful experience to have as my first official Passover. I still spent my fair share of time feeling sorry for myself and complaining that I couldn’t be with Udi, but at the end of the day, I feel tremendously lucky to have my community here and to be surrounded by loving, supportive Jews who are helping me along my path into Judaism. And, of course, I really am hoping for Next year in Jerusalem.
In the meantime, Udi and I are carefully watching the daily news for signs that travel will be reopened and we can see each other again. This is the longest we’ve gone without being together, and it isn’t easy. I miss him a lot, but I’m staying optimistic and focusing on the fact that we’ll have a hell of a dating story to tell our kids.