A Passover seder for two, I hope...
By Barbara Sofer
March 26, 2020
Around this season, my late mother would always recount her experience with other pregnant women in the New London, Connecticut, hospital, knitting and waiting her turn, as her obstetrician induced one pregnant patient after another so he could go on vacation. That’s how I was born on the day of the Passover Seder. My Hebrew birthday, celebrated thus, comes out on the 14th of Nissan, a half-holiday itself, but one that is often eclipsed by holiday preparations. Not a day for birthday parties, but there is a plus in that timing.
What could be better than hosting our five children and their families, plus my sister and her husband, for a Passover Seder that was also a celebration of my 70th birthday last year? That’s a Seder to remember.
This year’s Seder will be one to remember, too. A Seder for two, I hope, as I pray that neither my husband nor I will be harboring the coronavirus and be hospitalized.
I think of myself as a young 70. I’m still working full-time. I swim nearly every day. I’ve never smoked, I like trampoline parks, theater parties and mega-sleepovers with my grandchildren. I’m only slightly flustered by technology. But that number 70 puts me in the high-risk category for coronavirus. My husband, scientist/writer Gerald Schroeder, is older.
We’re paying strict attention to the rules, with additional restrictive tips from our children who are all in health professions.
Like all veteran Israelis, we’ve been through national crises before, and there’s a familiar feeling about stocking up on emergency foods, staying close to home and no matter the temperature, shivering through the evening news. I’ve run to shelters, picked up sleeping toddlers and rushed into safe rooms, and heard the nearby blasts of lethal terrorist attacks. But this time I have to accept the uncomfortable fact that we are vulnerable to an invisible threat. We can’t get together with our children or even have senior friends over, because we don’t know who has been exposed to what. We want to get through this.
So at our household we’re planning for a Seder for two, just my husband and me. If, God forbid, one of us comes down with the virus, the other will make a Seder for one.
We can do it and so can you. I don’t like the social media chatter of missing or postponing Passover Seder.
I’m reminding myself that not every Seder requires a crowd.
I’m thinking of a Seder long ago when my husband was in the army, and I was home with a toddler, and pregnant. I wouldn’t know until hours before the Seder if he would come home. I awkwardly invited myself to a large Seder at the home of friends. My husband did get home at the last minute, and we all went to the friends’ house. Big crowd. Oddly, our usually well-behaved toddler, our oldest son who is now a father of five and currently himself called up to the IDF’s unit dealing with the emergency, couldn’t sit still for a minute that night. He kept running around the table. The room was hot. I was close to fainting.
We walked home in the middle of the Seder, put our son to bed, set out a Seder plate with the basics and started the Seder over again. It was a wonderful relief, and we remember it as a spiritual and empowering evening.
When our daughter Yael, now a speech therapist and mother of five, was doing a year of National Service in the Jewish community of Stamford, Connecticut, she passed up many invitations to make the Seder for her great aunt, my wonderfully supportive Aunt Rose, who was by then widowed and living alone in her home in West Hartford.
My Jerusalem friend Susan Handelman used to do the same for her beloved mother, flying all the way to Chicago to spend Passover with her. When her mother died, she couldn’t bear joining a large Seder in her year of mourning. I admired her decision to turn down many invitations, and make a Seder for herself in her apartment, using her late mother’s exquisite Seder dishes.
According to Jewish law, even if you’re alone, you need to tell the story of the Exodus to yourself.
So you might be thinking that this is no big deal for highly educated Jews. You do not have to be a Torah scholar to lead your Seder.
During the great immigration from the USSR that began in 1989, we were volunteers for Keren Klitah, a wonderful organization that provided aid and support for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. We became exceptionally close with the first family we adopted. From Leningrad. Of course, they’d had Shabbat dinner with us, and we had introduced them to the cycle of Jewish holidays. Inviting them to the Seder seemed like a no-brainer, but we got a better idea after we bought Hebrew-Russian Haggadot. We would teach them how to make a Seder themselves.
The mom is a doctor and the dad an engineer. They are quick learners. The Haggadah came with instructions on preparations, and is itself an instruction book. Nonetheless, to make sure they had it right, we met with them ahead of time and went over everything. We provided the hardware – pots and pans and a set of dishes. They not only felt prepared, but became the resource for all their newly Israeli friends from Russia.
Even if you’ve never made a Seder before, even if we’re just one or two at home in elder-quarantine or quarantine because you have been exposed or in isolation because you have a mild form of the virus, having a Seder tiny in numbers doesn’t have to be small in spirit.
And yes, let’s make use of all our electronic devices to hear the Four Questions and sing the songs with our families before the Seder. But when we invite Elijah in, we need to keep the coronavirus out.
There’s time to get your supplies now.
As we so often do at a wedding, let’s invite in our own now-gone parents and grandparents. This is the time to resurrect our own childhood tunes, more reflective of Eastern Europe than of modern Israel. Growing up, I always sang “Ehad Mi Yodeya” with my mother, who was the only one who stayed up late to sing it with her father, but it has long given way to the version our Sabra offspring learned in nursery school.
My mother must have done Passover in the maternity ward the year I was born, but she never complained about it. And I never complained about the boxed Passover sponge cake that filled in as my birthday cake.