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Passover and covid-19

03/19/2020 10:25:46 AM

Mar19

Rabbi Dan Dorsch

Do we celebrate a Passover Seder during COVID-19? Do we keep Passover at all? What traditions do we do, and what do we scale back?
 
This morning, I received an email from my cousin in Philadelphia (also a rabbi) who decided to cancel our first night Seder. Understandably, the 75 people he had in mind is not going to work. If we even have second night at my parents’ home, it’s not entirely likely that my grandparents in their 90s (the reason we are going) are going to join us.
 
Needless to say, all of this has been causing me to think about what our Seder may be like, should we decide not to fly to Philadelphia in three weeks. Call me a pessimist, but the only comparable situation I could think of was Judaism under the Black Death in Europe. Admittedly, a lot more people died back then. The population knew nothing about how contagion spread. But I was curious: What was life like during that period of turmoil? Did it remotely resemble now? As the scourge was ravaging through households in Europe, were Jews holding Passover Sedarim?
 
Unfortunately, what I already knew as a student of history is that at least when the Black Death hit Europe in the 1350s, Jews ultimately were blamed for the Black Death. A blood libel surfaced that we were using Christian Children’s blood in the baking of matzah. Two hundred Jewish communities were wiped out in retaliation. There’s no data I could possibly find about Passover Seders during this period, but needless to say, it didn’t seem like I needed to really look. During the most major worldwide public health crisis over Pesach, Jews were persecuted for even contemplating Pesach.
 
All of this renders us some healthy perspective. Covid-19 is no laughing matter. On the other hand, it seems to me that a Pesach Seder isn’t only a Seder: it is a statement of our gratitude for the times in which we live in a country where we can have a Seder at all.
 
From where I sit right now, it seems hard to be grateful living under a quarantine. As a synagogue this past week, we made painful decisions that have rendered many of us feeling isolated and alone. No online minyan can possibly substitute for human contact.
 
Yet, I must admit that I couldn’t picture a Pesach going by without a Seder, or at least an abbreviated one. I am pretty sure that if we stay in Georgia, we are not going to go all out: Chicken, store-bought gefilte fish, and Amy’s baba’s famous carrot ring recipe. I am confident there will be a lot more sealed off cabinets with tape than boxes lugged back and forth to the basement. We’ll dine using our finest plastic china.
 
However, the four of us will celebrate the Seder. My kids will ask the four questions. And perhaps, someday in the future, they may remember “why this night,” Pesach 5780, was different than all other nights.”
Fri, April 3 2020 9 Nisan 5780