A second pandemic Passover tests our faith | Column

Passover tables again have empty settings this year. Getty Images.

We are in the midst of the Jewish community’s “first second” of the pandemic. Granted, we have been celebrating Shabbat week after week. Last year, however, Passover was the first major hurdle to overcome during the shutdown. And now we’ve reached Passover again.

We have been in this bubble for so long that we sometimes forget what it was like at the grocery stores in March and April 2020 — when curbside pickup was in its infancy, when Instacart was mounting weeklong advance checkout times, when toilet paper (and matzah) hoarding was hitting its peak.

The proximity of the shutdown to Passover last year led to the cancellation of Seder invitations and truncating of menus and meals. Still, it also led to the novel idea of Zoom Seders. Family members who most certainly would not have been together for Seder pre-pandemic, joined each other at the Seder table by way of tablets and laptops. Grandparents across the miles beamed into dining rooms; parallel menus were planned; and telegenic smiles and virtual hugs replaced the smells of our grandparents’ kitchens. There was hope and a sense of redemption.

But now we celebrate our second Passover in the “wilderness.” Though Zoom at the dining room table has become commonplace (I have Shabbat dinner with my parents every week now over zoom), the feeling of novelty for Passover is gone. Whereas last year felt as though we were rushing out of Egypt, braving a new world on our path to a future Promised Land, this year feels as though we have been lost in the desert for 40 years.

During the Seder there are songs each family sings — and have for centuries. Dayenu (literally “it was enough for us”) is perhaps the most famous of these songs. Each verse is a different conditional statement: Had God (only) brought us out of Egypt, it would have been enough for us! Had God (only) given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us! Had God (only) given us Shabbat, it would have been enough for us!

Though this song long predates Jews in Minnesota, Dayenu has a strong Minnesota passive-aggressive air to it. More this year than any other, I feel deeply and strongly that it would not have been enough.

With the chaotic state of the world, we each have been left wanting and needing more this year. So much more.

I gave thanks to God when I received my COVID-19 vaccinations and I made the difficult decision to travel to New Jersey to be with my parents for Passover. But, lo dayenu, it was not enough.

We as parents are in the business of creating positive memories for our children — and in the Jewish community, we create positive Jewish memories for our children. That is our primary job and it is emphasized and re-emphasized on Passover. My children have finally reached the age when Passover is no longer a “vacation” distraction from the chaos of the outside world. It is a charge to engage in it and add order (seder) — and bring justice to it.

Some of the questions asked by the children at our Seder this year: Do you think Derek Chauvin will be found guilty? How many people are not receiving their food or their medicines because of the Ever Given? Can we go to Atlanta to hand out water during the next election? Do we know why that man in Colorado killed those people? What is a border and what is happening there? Do you think next year we won’t have to wear masks with our cousins?

No questions about matzah. No questions about bitter herbs. No questions about reclining.

My little ones had all of the answers (and questions) about slavery and oppression and hate and inequality and racism in the world beyond the aroma of our matzo ball soup. It was not enough and is not enough — and it’s not all on God. We have to do more and partner with the forces for good to do more.

We may end our Seder traditionally by saying “Next year in Jerusalem” and some this year quipped “Next year in person.” My hope and our charge is “next year together” — and that’s not about physical space. That is a plea for us to live and work and love together, united.