Passover: Take advantage of the Seder after a year of COVID-19 - opinion

One messes with the sensitive holiday rotation calendar at their own peril.

Remembering 2020 Seder in 2021. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Remembering 2020 Seder in 2021.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Remember last year’s Passover Seder?
Sure you do. Everybody remembers last year’s Seder. It was the corona Seder of 2020. We’ll always remember that Seder.
It was the Seder you spent alone, or with just your spouse. It was the Seder you conducted by yourself for the first time because you couldn’t go to your parents. It was the only time you ever had a Seder with your nuclear family alone – without cousins, aunts, uncles, rowdy nieces and nephews, or even your grandparents all sitting, talking, laughing and admonishing one another around the table.
It was the Seder you didn’t have to work that hard preparing or cooking for, because nobody was coming over.
It was the Seder when people in your apartment building went to their balcony at a pre-assigned time to sing a few Seder songs because this was the first lockdown of our three corona lockdowns – that one the people took very seriously – and this singing interval on the balcony provided at least some communal connection during an eerie and uncertain time.
It was an odd, but strangely fulfilling Seder. Not that you would want to do it again, mind you. Once was more than enough. But there was something empowering in knowing that you could do something you were unaccustomed to, if need be; that it wasn’t the end of the world; that the sky wouldn’t fall if you did not replicate in exactly the same manner and with the same exact people a tradition you have performed year after year after year.
As people gather around their Seder tables Saturday night, as they sit thankfully and appreciatively with vaccinated grandparents and relatives and friends as life slowly returns to somewhat normal, the conversation will – after dealing with the Exodus and the election results – inevitably drift to memories from last year. Some will say it was a powerful experience, others a lonely one. But everyone will remember it. It was unique.
THAT SEDER, which made people more appreciative of their relatives and friends simply because they were absent, did something else to families – it threw off-kilter that carefully calibrated calendar determining who eats where on which holiday.
One of the beauties of living in a country as geographically small as Israel is that families live relatively close to one another.
It’s not like America, where the parents may live in a place like Chicago, with one kid hundreds of miles away in New York and another in Los Angeles. Here the folks live in Jerusalem, and maybe one kid lives 150 kilometers to the north in Haifa, another 75 kilometers away in Ashdod, and a third 120 kilometers to the south in Beersheba. As a result of this close proximity, it’s no big deal for the entire extended family to gather for each and every holiday.
What that means, however, is that before each Passover Seder, and before every Rosh Hashanah, the question arises – and negotiations begin – over who is going where for the holiday.
When the kids are single – even if they are off living on their own – it’s a no-brainer: they come home.
But things get dicier when they get married, since it is no longer a given that they will join you. Just as your son or daughter may want to spend the Seder with you – singing the tunes they recognize, and eating the food that they have become familiar with – their spouses will probably want to do the same with their parents.
So the solution most families have come up with is as simple as it is ingenious: rotation. That’s right, the people that gave the world the idea of a rotation of prime ministers, first gave the world the idea of holiday rotations for family members (though the latter rotation actually works).
If your son and his family spent the Seder with his in-laws last year, then it’s his turn to be with you this year.
But what if there was no last year? What if it was impossible then for your children to come to you because of the lockdown? What if they were willing, with their spouses, to violate the regulations and come anyway, but you said no? Then who gets them this Seder?
A couple of our children hinted last year that they would be willing to violate the regulations – as did the children of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin – to be with The Wife and me for Seder to prevent us from being alone; as if we couldn’t manage by ourselves, as if – after 35 years of marriage – we might run out of things to say. Unlike Netanyahu and Rivlin, we refused.
But that principled refusal has repercussions.
“You had your chance last year, but lost out,” one of my daughters-in-law said half-jokingly when testing the waters a couple of weeks ago in a conversation about our Passover plans. “This year it’s supposed to be our turn to go to my parents. We wanted to come to you last year, but you said no.”
“Over my dead body,” I responded, also half-jokingly, but intent on putting an end to any talk of such nonsense.
But she had made her point: one messes with the sensitive holiday rotation calendar at one’s own peril. Touch it once and it’s not that easy to reset.
Actually, it may have been wiser to swallow my pride and not protest. Not because I don’t want them over for the Seder, but rather because by missing out last year, the rotation calendar was somehow thrown off whack, and all the children are coming this year – none are going to their in-laws.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s great, a dream, especially in relation to the year past. But it also means that next year they will all be going to their in-laws, meaning the Wife and I could have to relive last year’s Seder experience, not because of the return of the pandemic, God forbid, but because it will be an off-year in the rotation.
The solution, of course, is easy: split the kids up, with half coming this year, and half the next. The Wife and I were headed in that direction, even discussing who would break it to which child that they were disinvited.
Until my oldest son, The Lad, talked us out of it.
“This year you have the opportunity to have everyone together,” he said. “Take advantage of it. Who knows what next year will bring?”
Sage advice, especially given the long and unpredictable road we have all traveled since the traumas of the coronavirus Seder of 2020.