(April 3, 2020 / JNS) “Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.”— Henry David Thoreau
Late at night on March 23, my mother forwarded me an email alert from The Wall Street Journal with this headline: “U.S. Domestic Passenger Flights Could Virtually Shut Down, Voluntarily or by Government Order.”
After reading the story, amid the coronavirus pandemic, I had to decide whether I would visit my parents in Evanston, Ill., only to be in solitary confinement in my room or remain in Washington, D.C., in my relatively spacious apartment, which thankfully has an outdoor patio.
I chose the halfway house (i.e., the latter).
This Passover, which begins at sundown on April 8 and ends at nightfall on April 16, will be my first without family.
Sadly, I won’t be with my parents at their house, but people’s health and safety must come first. I’ll miss my mother’s delicious cooking and my dad’s thoughtful historical commentary that accompanies reading the Haggadah at the seders. And my family won’t be going to the home of one of my best friends for the first night, as we had been doing for the past couple years.
In a time like the coronavirus outbreak, delivery is how many people are getting their food anyway. So I ordered from the Passover catering menu from Char Bar, the only kosher meat restaurant in the nation’s capital. It wasn’t cheap, but a friend reminded me that “it’s a one-time cost.”
Although I thankfully have made plans to spend the seders with the same group of people at two different locations (of course, strict social distancing guidelines will be followed), I will be alone for the small lunch meals on the first two days (I have not even begun to think about the last two days).
I plan to go to one of the kosher supermarkets in the suburbs to get some remaining items that I couldn’t get from Char Bar, such as desserts, doing so during the weekend, a few days before the first seder, so as not to mix my kosher-for-Passover items with chametz.
Additionally, don’t forget Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days) and the last two days!
And did I mention that my apartment will be professionally cleaned on Sunday, after which I will go about kashering my kitchen?
Making preparations alone for the first time is a reminder of the hard work people, including our families, put into preparing for the eight-day holiday—from buying, prepping and cooking for seders (and the small lunch meals on the first days) to cleaning to making sure that kitchen counters and equipment are kosher.
These challenging times are a reminder that Jews must innovate in fulfilling our seder, in the manner of “Whoever is hungry, come and eat. Whoever is needy, come and celebrate Passover.” Although our seders will likely be limited to those we know (and more so, strictly those in our immediate household), this calling applies as we help our friends and neighbors fulfill their obligation to conduct the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt through other means, such as picking up and/or sending groceries and other items for them.
My arrangement this year is also a reminder to appreciate the support of family and friends, especially the group I’ll be spending my seders with, to checking in and hearing from those who care about me. The seder poem and song, “Dayenu” (“It would have been sufficient”) applies now more than ever.
At the end of the day, this is a first not only in that context, but also in celebrating Passover alone for the first time without loved ones—an opportunity that provides a stark reminder for gratefully providing and getting support among one another.
Jackson Richman is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for JNS.
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