To begin, this season we’re really recreating the first Seder. This is a strong and somehow thrilling throwback to when we left Egypt: locked doors, eating in small groups, feeling unsure and insecure about the future. Most of the indoor work left to the women. Then as Now.
Hadassah women today are a band of progressive, forward moving women who try to do the right things, to see things through a lens of possibilities and tomorrows. We are women who see today, no matter how fraught, as a time and place for good. This is especially true of me and my Hadassah sisters.
Slavery? Yes! To computers/Zooms/the Internet. We’re beholden to them for our socialization and information. These are both symbolic and literal masters. We are slave to them symbolically as well as literally. And although it feels insistent and demanding to answer their call, it also affords us freedom and connections for our sacred purpose if you think about it: Socialization—pathways to new worlds we wouldn’t normally have. Someone exhales in Israel and we inhale in L.A. – Hadassah on both sides of the globe.
Freedom? Clearly! We can decide to leave known limitations and explore new ideas and people to connect and build bridges to each other just about anywhere-that’s certainly a new freedom! That’s very liberating and positive. Remember, our identity can’t be erased or taken from us on this journey-no amount of quarantine or social distancing can ever take that away. It may be a challenge to express it these days-as it was and has been, if you will, for various plagues throughout our history—but the message remains that we represent and commit to liberty and freedom. This only reminds us at the Seder to build strong and rise above this “Egypt” moment.
Plagues? Many! People are dying now as then. We’re sick and we’re scared. We wait for our vaccine and hope not to need the hospital-though thanks to Hadassah, Hadassah Hospital is a G-d send to Israel and the Middle East just now. The world in general no longer feels safe but the Passover story shows us how difficult times influence behavior. Even Pharoah’s. He was finally pushed beyond his own endurance and spite and discomfort. It was so great a burden, it is said, that he could only release his slaves to ameliorate or assuage his conscience- without naming it defeat. That unclosed end leaves a void of sorts. And how we fill our post Covid-19 lives depends on how we perceive the post Covid-19 world paradigms. There were ten plagues: bloat, frogs, locust, lice, livestock pestilence, flies, hail, boils, darkness, and the death of the first born. At our Seder table, our Seder plates are filled with symbolic foods and therefore anchor us to the story and the past. I wonder, when this plague/virus is passed, what rituals we will create to remember this time.
In my home, I’ve already added the orange to mock and spite and then progress from male-centric Judaism to a religion inclusive and celebratory of me -females. What can we add now to honor lives lost and lessons learned from fire, flood, ice and rainstorms, and their ensuing mud slides, global warming, hunger, Ebola, SARS, Covid-19, fear and its attendant hate crimes? Those are the modern 10 plagues.
We will have Passover in some form – as individuals alone or even lonely or in small groups – at home if we’re lucky – and thus find a way to celebrate and connect that word again with the essential messages of this holiday: freedom, faith, hope in the future and for out essential human spirit. We understand the realization that none of us is free unless and until each and all of us are. That’s what fair and equitable humans/Jews do: we see and measure the world through our eternal Jewish lens.
Our question always remains: What does G-d want from us now? And here’s the irony – and I’m sure it’s not lost on any one of you. I’m sure you already appreciate that Passover won’t be the same this year-or that it might be fully cancelled because of the plague/virus. Our ancestors couldn’t work or go outdoors during their plague. But look again, Israelites weren’t affected, Egyptians were – think masks – as farfetched an analogy as that might be. And then think of our essential lens again and that message of freedom and faith in tomorrows. If that’s not a Hadassah message, I don’t know what is. A plague is a great equalizer.
Think in the forward, the positive. We may wind up with a zoomed Seder or a very minimal guest list or not so abundant Seder menu, but I think we can all end with this: next month, may all humankind be free from fear and illness.