The Torah tells us to gather the family together on erev Pesach and, if we consider our household is small, invite our neighbour to join with us. At the beginning of the seder we declare: “Ha lachma anya…this is the bread of affliction… let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and share our Pesach.”
This year, so many face seder night in self-isolation. The mitzvah of inviting the stranger or the lonely person to join us can’t be contemplated. Ma Nishtana – this year, this night will certainly be different.
We Jews have, in the past, coped with much worse situations.
Fifty years ago, the Refusniks in the Soviet Union celebrated in secret or alone in the Gulag.
Eighty years ago, seders were held in Nazi concentration camps, the leader reciting the service by heart and with makeshift or make-believe symbols. Rabbis composed a prayer to be said when forced to eat bread as no matzah was available.
For some, it was the burning desire to perform the mitzvah of marking the festival of deliverance even, or especially, in times of oppression and persecution. For others, it was the hope that just remembering the story of liberation would keep up one’s spirits and the belief that freedom would come.
In 2020, while we may be alone or in very small family units, we can join with others through Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook Live and all other manner of online services. A number of synagogues and rabbis are live-streaming their seder with details available on the Liberal and Reform Judaism websites.
Also on the Liberal Judaism website, you will find a shortened and easy-to-use Haggadah – perfect for those putting on Pesach for a very small number of people, or even going solo, to enjoy the key parts of the seder without the need to go over every word and ritual.
The important thing is to mark Pesach in some way because, as in past times of difficulty, it can help boost the spirits with memories of the good celebration.
Jews have faced extraordinary times in the past and, as the very essence of Pesach tells: we will survive and we will be able to celebrate in the future, in freedom and without fear.
Bimheyra b’yameynu… soon and in our days.
- Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein is president of Liberal Judaism