I’ve had Seder in isolation, and this is my message of hope

More than 10 years have passed, but I can still smell the bleached sterility of Rambam Hospital’s bone marrow transplant ward

SPECIAL SEDER boxes include a fully loaded Seder plate (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
SPECIAL SEDER boxes include a fully loaded Seder plate
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
This will not be my first Seder night in isolation. I hope my experience over a decade ago will offer some hope and encouragement for those approaching this coming Passover with understandable trepidation. 
More than 10 years have passed, but I can still smell the bleached sterility of Rambam Hospital’s bone marrow transplant ward. I still see the tilted-headed sympathetic looks of the incredible nurses and doctors. But most of all, I recall the deep sense of horror I and my family were enduring.
Diagnosed with a relapse of the blood cancer lymphoma, not yet 30, and with two small children at home, I arrived at the hospital a week before Passover to undergo a stem-cell transplant. It was a procedure that at best would see me hospitalized for a month, and in isolation for nothing less than two weeks. The treatment would include severe chemotherapy, and carried the risk of any infection likely being fatal. However, it offered the chance of remission from cancer. Such are the pros and cons of life and death decisions.
Accompanied by my husband, I entered my hospital room and examined the confines of what was to be my only view for some time. My mind drifted longingly home, where we had left my parents, freshly flown in from London, and my two young boys whom I had kissed goodbye, maybe for three weeks, maybe for a month, maybe forever. But there was no turning back.
I remember that Passover every year. And as I hug my children close, I recall that Seder night in isolation. I remember the uncertainty and the apprehension. This year, these fears resonate more than ever. I find my mind drawn back to the last time Passover “was not as it should be,” without family on Seder night. The last time the joy of the Feast of Freedom was soured by more than bitter herbs, but by concern and distress.
This year, however, these fears are not solely mine. They are shared by thousands as, all over Israel and the Jewish world, families are facing the reality that grandparents will be alone on Seder night. We won’t all get to hear grandchildren ask the Four Questions, join them singing Seder songs, or see them rummaging under the table for the afikoman. It is heart-breaking and distressing to even contemplate.
But because these are demons I have faced, I want to share a message of hope.
Even when not surrounded by family, even when faced with the enormity of my situation, Passover that year brought me strength. I was not able to be with my children but it served as a reminder to value every moment that we are together. It inspired me to push forward, to overcome, and to survive.
Seder night has that power. Passover has that power. People – and the Jewish People especially – have the power to bring light where there is dark. We didn’t just go through the motions of the Seder, or just rush through the Haggadah that year, instead we found new meaning in the texts and rituals. We found purpose. We found hope.
To add to the inspiration of that lonely, special night, we were blessed with an unexpected guest. A fellow patient, who from a distance was able to join us for Seder in the isolation ward. With the nurse’s permission, she sat with us, and we spoke about how Moses led the Jews from slavery, and shared how the doctors were leading us from cancer. Both, to be clear, with the strong arm and outstretched hand of God.
It occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now, that we were not separated because of hate – an experience our people have known all too well – but instead because of love. We are apart to keep us safe, to be sure that we may be able to be together again, soon.
That said, there is no doubting that Passover, and especially Seder this year, will be very tough. But I hope it will serve as a source of inspiration for us all, and as we always say, “Next year in Jerusalem”.
The author immigrated to Israel from the UK in 2006, and lives in Modi’in with her husband and three sons.