Why is this night different? Finding Passover comfort under curfew.

Why We Wrote This

Rituals give comfort. So, often, does order. This year, the Passover Seder may be a smaller affair, but it offers our writer comfort, and a chance to reflect on the world we hope to reenter.

Courtesy of Daniel Kraft
Friends and family gather at the home of Michael and Lisa Kraft for Passover Seder in Silver Spring, Maryland, April 2019.

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This year was to have marked the 51st Kraft Family and Friends Seder. It’s still happening – not in person, but over four time zones via Zoom.

Passover is the Jewish holiday that commemorates the children of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. It is called the Festival of Freedom, one that this year is being held while most of the planet is under de-facto house arrest.

Here in Israel a three-day curfew has just begun. And at its height – Wednesday night until Thursday morning – people won’t be able to roam more than 100 meters from home.

The ceremonial meal marking the beginning of the holiday is a festive song- and food-filled night. During the meal we are commanded to retell the story of leaving Egypt, so that the next generation should know who they are, where they came from, and that in every generation there is a Promised Land that awaits.

I find comfort in that sentiment now, that we will be free again. This shall pass, and we will emerge – hopefully changed for the better, wiser, more compassionate for the suffering of others, and aware in ways that only hardship can remind us of how connected and dependent on one another we truly are.

If the world had not been upended by the plague of the coronavirus, right about now I’d be unfurling embroidered white tablecloths as I set the Passover Seder table at my parents’ home in Maryland.

I’d be enjoying the view of azaleas and daffodils and the sound of my mother giving pointers to my kids rolling matzo balls.

Instead I’m an ocean, two continents, and 6,000 miles away in Tel Aviv, where I live with my husband and two children. We are preparing for what seems like the unfathomable task of hosting a Seder meal for the first time – and just for the four of us.

Usually we are back in Maryland with extended family and friends. There are upwards of 40 of us some years, three generations crammed together in joyous mayhem, families who have been celebrating Passover together in the same spot for 50 years.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

This year was to have marked the 51st Kraft Family and Friends Seder. It’s still happening in abbreviated form – not in person, but over four time zones via the technology of Zoom.

Passover is the Jewish holiday that commemorates the children of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt to new lives as free people. It is called the Festival of Freedom, one that this year is being held while most of the planet is under de-facto house arrest.

Here in Israel a three-day curfew has just begun, Tuesday night, that will lift only Friday morning. There is no public transportation and no travel by car between neighborhoods or towns. And at its height – Wednesday night until Thursday morning – people won’t be able to roam more than 100 meters from home “for any reason at all.”

The goal is to ensure that people don’t break the rules of sheltering at home to join each other for the Seder as they traditionally do. This year bursting intergenerational tables of family and loved ones could spell a health disaster just as Israel is beginning to – as we can all recite together almost as if in prayer – “flatten the curve.”

Dan Williams/Reuters
Three siblings in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, wave to their their grandmother in Haifa as she joins their Passover Seder via Zoom as Israel takes stringent steps to contain the coronavirus, April 8, 2020

The ceremonial meal marking the beginning of the seven-day holiday is a festive song- and food-filled night. During the meal we are commanded to retell the story of leaving Egypt, as if we ourselves had made the journey out, so that the next generation should know who they are, where they came from, and that in every generation there is a Promised Land that awaits.

I find comfort in that sentiment now, that we will be free again. This shall pass, and we will emerge – hopefully changed for the better, wiser, more compassionate for the suffering of others, and aware in ways that only hardship can remind us of how connected and dependent on one another we truly are.

Seder in Hebrew means “order,” and there is a prescribed order to the ceremony – just after the ceremonial pouring of the first ritual glass of wine comes the ritual hand-washing, certainly even more meaningful today. For thousands of years, that act of purification, we are told, has helped keep illness and disease, even plagues at bay.

And I find comfort in this too – in the ordered ceremony and in the wisdom of our ancestors – of some things fixed constant and true when everything else feels so out of order.

Even though our Zoom Seder will stretch from San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Mediterranean, we will together embark on the rituals we know so well and give us a sense of continuity and calm. We will sing the same familiar songs, some whose words will no doubt feel extra poignant: “Let My People Go,” and, in the youngest child’s singing of “The Four Questions,” the hallmark line of: “What makes this night different from all other nights?”

And this year, as every year, the outside world will intrude to make us ask ourselves the hard questions, this year made extra hard, but also extra meaningful.

So often at large Seders we let others do the leading, the thinking for us. But having these meals at individual families’ homes makes each of us more responsible for the meaning we bring to them. And I hope it prepares us all to bring extra meaning and thought to our lives once we can emerge from our homes and into the wider world again.

Seders are for asking questions, and this seems like one of the most important we should be asking: After our own exodus from everyday life, how will we go back into the world the better for our time out of it?

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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