BY RABBI BARRY COHEN
How did your Seder go this year? I begin with a question, because the Passover Seder is all about asking.
Did you use technology to have a Zeder (a Zoom Seder)? I thought about it but in the end chose not to go that direction. Most of my family, including my three siblings, lives in the Central Time Zone. Another challenge is that they all do Seder in their own way. Having a joint Zeder would have been comparable to solving an equation with too many variables.
How did this year’s Seder feel for you? What was different? What was the same? This year, I had Seder with my 15-year-old twins; just the three of us. I felt a range of emotions that at times almost was overwhelming. I felt joy, hope and encouragement. But I also felt anger, frustration, discouragement and cynicism. And that is just part of what I felt.
This year’s Seder was so different from the Seder of my youth. In Memphis, multiple generations of my family would gather at the home of one of my uncles, the family’s patriarch. Seder was a reunion with aunts, uncles, cousins and distant family from little towns in Arkansas and Mississippi. Though I did not know it at the time, with Passover, I was not only learning about my connection with the ancient Israelites, but I was learning about my connection with my contemporary family. With Passover, I learned who I was and where I came from.
My children have only experienced Seder with their extended family once, when we were able to fly home from Chicago. In that way, this year’s Seder was not so different for them. In order to learn about where they come from, they are dependent upon family stories I share with them. And stories are nothing like the real thing.
With Seder, I have tried to teach them that we learn our story by using our imaginations to be in multiple places at same time: We are enslaved in Egypt, we are gathered at a Roman symposium discussing the theme of “freedom,” and we are in our home, safe and secure. With this year’s Seder, my imagination was overwhelmed by the COVID-19 “stay at home” order. I struggled to escape the harsh reality of here and now.
For part of the Seder, we also asked questions about whether the Jews will become the scapegoat for the origin and spread of the virus. For generations, we have been blamed for the spread of plague. Why would this plague be any different from any other plague?
We also talked about the Israel trip that could have been. I shared with them my hopes to incorporate my memories of being in “Ha’aretz,” the Land of Israel, in the telling of the Passover tale.
This year, I felt grief. But I also felt relief that my children, loved ones and friends are all safe and sound.
How will my children remember this year’s Seder? How will they incorporate the Passover of 2020/5780 into their experience? Years from now, how will they tell the tale to their kids?
Like the Seder, I have more questions than answers. But then again, maybe that’s the point.
As the Community Chaplain for the Greater Portland Jewish community, Rabbi Barry Cohen serves as a resource for all Jews in our community. He can be reached at 503-892-7401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.