As the Jewish community prepares for Passover under quarantine, I’m reflecting on how this moment is so profoundly difficult for so many Jewish families as we head into the holidays.
The coronavirus pandemic has not only upended the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere, but it is going to have a profound effect on Jewish families preparing for the celebration of Passover, which begins on the night of Wednesday, April 8. The question, “How is this night different from all other nights?” that we pose to ourselves at the seder will take on a whole new meaning this year.
Because of the social distancing rules in effect in nearly all states across the country, many Jewish families will be apart from loved ones for the first time, and unable to join at seder tables.
And some families and communities will have missing participants – those who may have taken ill or succumbed to this deadly disease. It’s a painful moment for everyone as we attempt to navigate the new realities of a world facing a very modern and deadly plague of COVID-19.
Passover is the most celebrated holiday of the year for American Jews and typically brings together relatives from far and wide for celebration. Not so this year. Staying at home absolutely is the right thing to do, but it will leave many unconnected, isolated and perhaps alone.
And as many are worrying about Pesach, people everywhere also are focused on much more existential issues: Are my loved ones healthy? Can I feed my family? Will we be able to pay the rent? These concerns are front and center for millions of people as we continue to grapple with the long term affects of the COVID-19 outbreak.
And so, we as a Jewish community need to be there for ourselves, but also for those outside our faith who are hurting so deeply.
Being there for friends and neighbors can take many forms. It might mean making an extra grocery shopping run for a senior citizen in the neighborhood, checking in on a loved one or a friend, attending a virtual shiva to help maintain a sense of community, or inviting people to attend your family’s seder on streaming video so that those who are alone can feel a sense of togetherness and love even in a state of separation. A little creativity can go along way in closing the gap between our self-imposed distances.
And more than ever, each of us can make a personal commitment to dig deep with tzedkah (charity) and find creative ways to commit gimulut chasadim (acts of lovingkindess). These small acts, when carried out by many, can serve as force multipliers that can help the world become a better place.
We need to offer compassion and show courage, give strength and provide service as others have done for us as a Jewish people through the centuries. This will be a long road. We’ve got to show up and stand with our neighbors in need in the days, weeks and – possibly – long months ahead.
Indeed, this is a unique moment in our history. We as a Jewish people who have suffered so often can share hard-won insights of faith and resilience with the broader world. This is deeply interwoven with the themes of the Passover Haggadah. The universal themes of Passover – going from slavery to freedom, from darkness into light, and questioning our faith in difficult times – these themes seem to take on greater resonance now.
As we approach the holiday, I am thankful to lead an organization that also works on repairing the world by “fighting hate for good.” The ADL’s mission in this moment seems as important as ever, even as we have changed our footing to respond to the latest manifestations of hatred in society: “zoombombing,” antisemitic coronavirus conspiracy theories, and a wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans perceived to be disease carriers.
While these are new expressions of hate, make no mistake — they are directly connected to the age-old tropes that have fueled hatred against Jews for millennia. We know that people are prone to look for scapegoats in a time of crisis. And so, our work continues even as our entire staff is working from home and balancing the needs of family and imperatives of work.
I am also thankful that we as a Jewish community are strong and united against these and other pathogens plaguing our society, whether it’s the actual disease of COVID-19 or the potentially deadly disease of prejudice and hate.
On this holiday, I wish everyone strength and support, blessings, and best wishes for a meaningful Passover celebration.