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Pesach – Past, Present and Future

By Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila 2021/5781

In 2020/5780, I spent Pesach "home alone" for the first time in my life because of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 situation in Israel. Before the holiday I was very dismayed at having to spend the holiday that requires sharing the experience to make it complete:

And you shall explain to your child on that day, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.' Exodus 13:8

Getting ready for the seder alone, is not a new activity. Since my kids left home, it is the normal way I've been doing it. I really love opening up my Pesach boxes and rediscovering all my old "friends" – dishes, bowls or well-worn family Haggadot that had been hidden away in the dark behind the summer clothes and family photos the year before. Each year I am surprised by a new acquisition from the previous year, like a set of colorful napkins or a new tablecloth. It is a chore that takes on visual and tactile meaning every time, at the same time I consider the special discussion themes for this year's seder.

Although I was going to attempt a group Zoom seder, I was worried. How could I prepare to undertake to explain all my ideas under the pressures caused by life during the pandemic of COVID-19? Certainly, I might forget something or simply mess up at some point. Then a friend of mine sent me her page of directions to her family on how to conduct a seder, because she was not going to be on Zoom for the seder. This inspired me to do my own version of this for my family.

First, I began to set the table a couple of days before the actual seder, after cleaning up, of course. I laid out a fresh tablecloth and set my place at the table. It seemed so stark in contrast to my usually overflowing seder preparations. But as the table filled up, I began to enjoy the task and feel more comfortable about the upcoming event.

As I began to photograph each stage of my preparations, I was caught up while deciding how each thing I added to the table could be best observed. Setting the table was a process I had enjoyed doing for many years, but this time I had to consider each and every item for its visual impact as well as its holiday significance. As I set the table and captured more images, I wished I had such a record of the seder table from my childhood; it was different but had so much in common with mine.

The result was not really a "how to" manual but rather a trip down memory lane of past seder observances. For example, I recalled why I came to have two different matza covers: one stitched by a dear friend from New York and one made by my youngest son in school many years ago. The whole experience lifted my spirits and I happily created a presentation to send to my family.

Of course, the presentation included music and comments and all sorts of additional photos. I also made a version that played automatically to send to everyone to play whenever they wanted to. Connected or at a distance my project was a twofold success. It helped me to joyfully reconnect with the meaning and texture of my favorite holiday as well as creating a document for posterity.

Therefore, even if we were all wise, even if we were all people of long experience and deeply learned in the Torah, it would still be our duty to tell and retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt from the Haggadah.

Below is the special prayer by Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi which I included at the end of my presentation:

May we look into the eyes of those around us and those who we see from afar and assure each other that we are mutually responsible for one another, for the health and safety and spiritual well-being of ourselves, our communities, and for all of humanity today, as we were then. This year, we are here. We are broken apart, but next year may we find new beginnings, a new commitment to each other, a new wholeness, and a new common destiny.

May we all have meaningful experiences this year. Happy Pesach.

Next year in a healthy Jerusalem! 



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