July 25, 2024
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July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Stay home. No guests. Four words that have ripped a hole in our hearts for Pesach this year. On March 29, the RCBC sent a letter with an explicit directive: “…we cannot have any guests at all for Pesach this year…only with the family that lives with us in our homes.”

People have spent thousands of dollars on hotel programs and were told they wouldn’t see any amount refunded. Men and women who live alone suddenly had to face the logistical stress of preparing a home for Pesach with little notice, and the emotional stress of a solo seder. Grandparents who had started stocking freezers in anticipation of seeing their beloved children and grandchildren now have food for full plates, but empty seats. Here are a few stories about how people revised their Pesach plans.

Dr. Daniel Lowe of Teaneck is a urologist. He is not caring for COVID-19 patients but wants to do his best to treat patients so they can stay out of emergency rooms. He became concerned that social distancing wasn’t being taken seriously enough. After consulting with the RCBC, he wrote a petition for physicians to sign on the website change.org. Under the headline “Bergen County Physicians Passover Statement,” the petition exhorts people to stay home for Pesach with just their families. He has over 200 signatures. “I thought it would be helpful if people heard from their physician friends who are on the front lines,” he said. “By all accounts this community has done incredibly well. This letter was to serve as a wake-up speech—we’re doing great but hold the line a little longer.”

Dr. Lowe, of course, is heeding his own advice. The family had planned to spend Pesach with his parents in Savannah, Ga., and cancelled that visit several weeks ago. Now he is making his first Seder at home. He and his children, ages 13, 11 (twins) and 9, are working on divrei Torah with his children, ages 13, 11 (twins) and nine. The kids have done artwork and designed afikomen boxes. “We want to make it meaningful and special for the kids; they’ll miss their cousins and grandparents and they’re sad,” he said. His wife is taking the lead role in preparing the Seder but said he is being more helpful in the kitchen than he otherwise would be. At the time of our phone interview, he noted that the week’s parsha was about sacrifices. He told his children they were making sacrifices so others can live. “‘The Greatest Generation’ (who fought World War II) stepped up to the plate to save the world. Our assignment is different but no less important.”

Miriam and Marvin Stiefel of Englewood are making their first ever Seders at home. “In all my 30 plus years of marriage, I have never made an entire Pesach,” she said. They have spent Pesach with the Stiefel clan in Atlanta, and enjoyed Pesach programs in Puerto Rico and Europe. Two years ago, they spent the first days in Teaneck with their son and his family, and spent the last days at home but were invited out for meals.This year, they were going to do the same. Stiefel isn’t worried about her own Seders. Despite working full time from home, she has been grocery shopping, ordering cakes and some prepared food, cleaning, storing and preparing in her usual organized fashion. She is more concerned about her in-laws, who usually spend Pesach with another son and his family. “My in-laws haven’t done Pesach in 25 years,” she said. Miriam and her husband are going to the home to clean and stock up, making sure to keep a safe distance, but in hearing range so her mother-in-law can guide the set up.

Shalom Yehudiel, owner and executive chef of the Humble Toast in Teaneck, had planned to be in Sunny Isles, Fla., for Pesach, with his wife, three-month-old daughter and other family members. Instead, he’ll be at home, making his first Seder after working 80 hours a week to make food for the community. “We’re trying to keep our doors open, keep employees working and keep positive,” he said. “It’s important to provide necessary service and we’re also trying to help families.” Yehudiel said he had been filling and delivering orders to the immediate area, Queens and Washington Heights. On Monday, the restaurant transitioned to a Pesach menu; he will be serving some of those dishes at home, like Moroccan salmon, smoked baby chicken, braised minute roast with red wine and baby bella mushroom and yapchik. Yehudiel also offered some spiritual food for thought. “It is very important for us to be completely connected to Hashem now—he wants to show us something.”

Rabbi Daniel Alter, head of school at the Moriah School in Englewood, always hosts Pesach Seders with family at his home. This year, both sets of grandparents were supposed to be there—his parents from Israel, who couldn’t come, and his wife’s parents, who will now be alone in Englewood. He came up with a creative idea for his parents in Israel, as he explained in an email. “My sister and my oldest son Yehudaare arranging for all my parents’ grandchildren to put together a mini booklet with divrei Torah from all the grandchildren living in Bergenfield, Clifton and Lawrence. They will compile the booklet and share it with my parents in Israel so that at the Seder this year they will at least have divrei Torah from all their grandchildren they can read.”

Our guests can’t be with us. But Hashem is always included. Next year in Jerusalem.

By Bracha Schwartz

 

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