July 15, 2024
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Celebrating Pesach During a Pandemic

It’s safe to say that this year’s Pesach seder went a little differently from the way we first imagined it would.

For some, dining rooms filled with no fewer than 20 place settings became severely downsized in order to accommodate social distancing rules. This left nuclear families to celebrate with each other, or others to celebrate alone.

According to The Jerusalem Post, some Sephardic Orthodox rabbis in Israel (including Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, head of Jerusalem’s rabbinical court, and Rabbi Shlomo Ben Hamo, chief rabbi of Kiryat Gat) approved the use of video-conferencing technologies, such as Zoom, provided they turned on the service before Yom Tov and kept it running. This was meant to help include relatives who might otherwise be left alone and feeling isolated during the chag.

One Sephardic family in Bergen County, who chose to remain anonymous, took advantage of this ruling in order to include their grandmother, who lives alone, in the Seder festivities. They turned on a WhatsApp video call before Yom Tov began and left the device charging throughout the chag so that their grandmother could connect virtually.

Others chose to go the solo route, but found the experience no less fulfilling. Some, such as Dina Leffel of Fair Lawn, were surprised at how fast their Sedarim went and were glad to be able to eat earlier and therefore go to bed earlier. She also had the time to read through more commentaries for each section of the Seder.

Like Leffel, Passaic resident Yehuda Shestack used an opportunity alone to delve deep into his Artscroll Haggadah’s commentary, which helped him achieve a more spiritual Seder experience.

“It was the first time I did the Seder alone,” Shestack said. He usually attends a friend’s Seder, where he is one of anywhere from 12 to 20 guests. “It was stimulating but also very challenging. I was asking myself the four questions and then answering them. But I got to read different explanations from different authorities if there was something I had a question about––it really helped embellish the Seder.”

Shestack, whose friends provided him with the right ingredients for his Seder plate, felt more connected to the story of yetziat Mitzrayim this year in light of the pandemic.

“It was a very powerful experience,” he said, though he hopes to experience next year’s Seder among friends and family.

Daniel Morris of Teaneck, in a successful attempt to remind others that they were not alone this chag, was able to rally the entire block of Warwick Avenue in a group rendition of Mah Nishtana. Before Yom Tov, he started to spread the word about his plan, and by 8:45 on the first night, families were out on their porches and lawns singing together.

“It was a nice way to bring the whole block together, especially when many people are feeling isolated in this unprecedented time,” Morris said. “It shows how special the community is. People said it was the highlight of their seder.”

Abroad, in Israel, many people did their best to enjoy the company they had.

For Alysa Cohen, her husband and their four kids who made aliyah from Teaneck in August, this year’s Seder was not the way they had imagined. While they were originally going to visit her husband’s Israeli relatives, they found themselves at home and away from extended family.

“Our parents wanted very much to be with their children and grandchildren but they all accepted that it was not happening this year,” Cohen said.

She was, however, able to find a silver lining to her situation. Her 7-year-old, who normally would have been distracted by the excitement of spending time with his cousins, participated eagerly in this year’s Seder.

“My youngest had so much to say about the Haggadah that we had to tell him more than once to give his siblings a chance to jump in,” she said. “Without the distraction of other young cousins with whom he could run off and play, it simply made sense for him to be at the table with the rest of us. So this was an opportunity to experience the Seder and give each of our children a moment to shine in a way that I don’t think would have happened otherwise.”

Judi Resnick made aliyah from Teaneck in December. While her son and his family live about an hour away from her apartment in Jerusalem, they all agreed it would be safer if she stayed home this year. Resnick also had to abide by a curfew in Israel on the night of the Seder, where no one was allowed outside of their homes.

About 10 days before Pesach, Resnick approached her neighbors on her floor, an Israeli couple whom she had met previously.

“I asked them if I could join their seder by putting a table in the hallway, about 15 feet away from their door,” she said. “Since they were going to be without family, too, they agreed.

She set out a card table and a chair in the hallway, and the couple had moved their table so that it would be visible from the doorway. They sang songs and shared divrei Torah from their Haggadot together.

“I felt so lucky to have been part of this seder,” Resnick said. “Otherwise, I would have been alone or relegated to a video Seder on a timed TV. While I hope and pray that next year I can be with my son and his family, as well as my daughter who was unable to join us from the States, this is one Seder that I will always look back on with joy.”

By Elizabeth Zakaim

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