A hole in the universe: that’s how it feels to me.
If you were to skim your email, you might believe that life has gone on as we always lived it. Macy’s has its sales, David Yurman and Lagos are making you drool over new jewellery fantasies, Shoppers Drug is reminding you to claim points. But layered in the news and emails are letters from CEOs and Presidents of Air Canada, Marriott, Loblaws, Rancho La Puerta, to name just a few, explaining new reduced hours, closures and in the case of Bristol Farms in San Diego, the necessity of wearing a mask to be allowed entry for food shopping. Apparently that’s the law in California.
With Passover the past few nights, a new unexpected way to gather: not in person, but by zoom. How strange it was. My son, Jordan setting up the links, sending out the Haggadah pdf. Ironically enough, the Haggadah resembled the one my parents and grandparents used so many years ago at those family seders that overloaded the entire living room on Atlas Avenue. But the Haggadah, the one distributed free of charge by Maxwell House coffee, has found its way onto the internet. The same yellow cover with the same serpentine drawing of the deer, the same archaic language.
But we gathered at 5:30, Jordan and family in Toronto, my sister-in-law too, my daughter with her sweetly dozing newborn in Alberta, my other daughter, her husband and children in Philadelphia and of course, Howard and myself. Howard had shortened the Seder to salient pieces for the sake of the children, unable to squirm about, leave the table for a few minutes, search for the afikoman, play with their cousins.
The adults were fully aware the meeting was symbolic and a way to come together when we were unable to actually greet, hug ,squeeze and physically meet with one another on Passover, usually the children’s favourite holiday. The youngest Aaron stands at attention, performs The Four Questions and in my mind, I hear my daughter, Erica, shortly after my father’s passing, chant in her lilting operatic voice a rendition so soulful that all burst out clapping and insist she continue. And she complied with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, her little head seeming to float over that sad evening. Our memories of my father were hanging in the air above us, linking our lives in a way we had imagined impossible just months previously.
Present day, we circle back to Erica’s children to identify the “ Order of the Seder” in the introduction. Courtesy of PJ Books for children, the Passover story has been decanted earlier to the children in Philly, they finding Eliahu’s seeking out and sipping wine from glasses in every Jewish house most intriguing and hilarious .”We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt” we read, stopping to explain background and some context.
We only pause on the probes of The Simple Son, eclipsing both The Contrary and Wise sons this year. In the text, The Simple Son is instructed, “…With a strong hand, The Lord brought us out from the House of Bondage, “. Likely incomprehensible to the children at the table -and three year old Georgia in pink velvet is gyrating to the music in her head, but no one wants to query the archaic word “ bondage”, nor are further explanations offered. Usually we laugh at Moses taking his rod in his hand, but that section has been excluded along with the other rabbis spinning the tale. If life were normal, we would have made silly jokes, paused for explanations, further interpretations or correlations, making it intelligible for the little ones.
We slide onto the plagues “Blood. Fire. Pillars of Smoke.” I’m recalling years back my four or maybe five year old first born grandson, once happily sloshing the wine in his cup suddenly enquiring into the meaning and horrified to murmur, “THOSE are not good things”and repulsed, pushing his cup away, the dawn of reasoning corrupting his innocence from a splash to a slash in his thinking. He looks in horror at the red wine streaming over the edges of his plate, shuddering. We continue on with the plagues, Howard adding Covid 19. No comment. Just sad nods.
I suggest Erica’s oldest participate by reading the plagues in English. He moves within the range of zoom now and I feast on his clean blond looks, his clarity and confidence in listing the horrors of “pestilence, boils, locusts” smoothly. He neatly returns to his seat, disappearing from the purview of the camera, relieved he hadn’t pondered the final indictment, “slaying of the first born.” Later, she tells me he has had a hard time falling asleep.
From there, to singing Dayenu, “It would have been enough.” Usually the rollicking renditions loud and joyous, and repetitious as in unison we would have all shouted and laughed, “ Enough, enough”, but now quieter, smaller smiles and the grownups silently reviewing the last months of self isolation and social distancing, wondering how much longer will the dark restrictions of 2020 continue. Enough in deed .
We move on to explaining the reason for Matzoh, unleavened bread, and Moror, bitter herbs, and again I stop to proffer a meaning in everyday language. So I offer, “They had to leave so quickly that their bread did not rise” : by way of translation. Ariel our oldest, softly adds, “Yea, like me having to depart for Alberta so suddenly.” I peer at the screen for children’s reactions but the sun that is setting obscures my perception of the six of them, my “ treasures” as my mother would have referred to them. Technology has them in its grip even if the story in the Haggadah does not.
That night even though we were all in our own homes, I dressed for the occasion, putting on makeup for the first time in weeks, choosing real clothes instead of sweats as I thought of my mother’s jaunty scarfs worn for special occasions; and even after days and days of exhausting preparation, she took the time to look nice. I notice Erica’s children are nicely turned out, too, girls in party dresses. Remy, age 5, with two red blotches on her cheeks, for she chooses her child’s version of makeup to coalesce with her beautiful deep green party dress.
We lift our glasses for a second cup of wine. We make the matzoh sandwiches of charoset and moror . We go to the door, open it for Eliahu. This ritual usually occurs at the conclusion of the Seder, but tonight it’s part of the shortened service condensed especially for the children. We’re missing welcoming the velvety night, the magical darkness at the end of the rituals, the children gathering around the cup and proclaiming , “The wine is going down!” as they are enveloped by a starry night.
Maybe that is part of the reason Passover has been identified as even the grownup children’s favourite holiday . When they were young themselves, they had searched for the Afikomen, the hidden matzoh and retrieved it for money or prizes; they would have learned The Four Questions and participated in their assigned spots and watched with huge eyes the disappearance of wine, raucously joining the adults in rounds of Dayenu. In the rambling of prayer most often in incomprehensible Hebrew, they had been allocated real places for their voices and had observed themselves as crucial to the festivities .
So we say goodnight, Happy Passover, Stay well, see you soon.
Each returns to their home.
But we are happy for the communion, the imperfect coming together, the being with one another, even the recitation of the plagues.
How strange these days. My eyes fall on my flowers, the centrepiece for the evening’s proceeding: pinks, purples , whites, tulips, snapdragons, hyacinths, ranunculus, muscari and one whose name I cannot recall , but has these lovely thin twisting stems. The colours, the shapes, the diversity of form, all supported by the green of the leaves and stems that stand tall.
Flowers give me hope. A reminder that there is still laughter, beauty and love in this world. Even when there are plagues.