What I hope we learn from two Passovers in social distancing exile

Last year, as we prepared for our first physically distanced Seder, I wrote a poem, my first ever, about the ritualistic importance of U’rchatz: handwashing, in times of a pandemic.

It ends with:

To remember all those who have lost or have been lost.

Tonight, we wash our hands for ourselves, and for others,

We wash our hands to remember those in need:

Me, You, and all of Us.

It felt right for the moment: as I hosted my smallest Seder ever, just four people in attendance in person, we started with reclaiming a weird ritual — weird, even according to the Rabbis — to keep in mind the worst pandemic of our lifetime.

But while our Seder was small, we livestreamed it to Facebook, with over 2,000 people tuning in overall. We concluded it not with the traditional “Next Year in Jerusalem,” but with “Next Year in Person.” It was our response to isolation, to missing family and friends. It was what kept me, and I believe many of us, going: The idea that this would be a one-off. It will get better soon, we thought even while we were in the midst of a terrible COVID wave; myself and the friends at my table, all formerly Ultra-Orthodox, already all personally knew people who had died from COVID.

In our darkest of dreams, we did not imagine that it would take another year, with our country losing over 500,000 people, until we would see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

In our wildest dreams we did not think: Next Year, Virtually, Again.

But Next Year, Virtually, Again, it is.

And so I am planning to escape to the mountains, literally. My girlfriend and I, plus one cousin, are headed up north, where I will cook a five-course meal, and we will prepare a Seder table as if we were hosting 20 people. (For those curious about our meal: I’ll be sharing the cooking progress on my Instagram Stories.) But despite the fact that we’ll have a small Seder again this year, I am filled with hope, even though the pandemic is far from over.

Community | What I hope we learn from two Passovers in social distancing exile

Why? I have learned over the past 12 months that turning hardship into joyous moments is not just a cheesy uplifter: it can be a reality.

From creating a Jewish world with fewer borders online, to a summer of rising up for racial and social justice, to getting rid of an administration that tried to define me and my transgender siblings out of existence — we have shown that as a people, as a nation, if only we pay attention, if only we stand up, we can grow, with strength, through the worst pandemic in a hundred years. That is what I am bringing to this year’s Seder — hope. Not in spite of COVID, but, in part, because of it.

Yes, we have lost so much. Yes, to be able to afford — physically, financially and mentally — to celebrate right now is a privilege. As we keep that in mind, and as we commit to helping those in more need than us, we have many reasons to celebrate freedom, and to exclaim: “Next Year in Person!”

And as we work toward that goal, so too will we continue to work on our personal and communal exodus from all our narrow spaces.

Next year, I hope not only that we will be able to celebrate together in person, but also that we won’t forget the lessons from our two Pesachs in exile.

That we take the message of “b’chol dor v’dor” — “in every generation” — seriously.

That we remember to invite into our homes those for whom virtual seders in 2020 and 2021 gave them a rare chance to feel at home, because of lack of family and community.

That we remember that we did not judge people for what they were wearing, or for not being able to afford festive meal tickets.

That we remember that people could virtually celebrate with their partners, with their loved ones, regardless of gender and sexuality.

Let’s make sure that we remember that virtual holidays gave so many who might not be part of what we see as our conventional community — whether because of gender, race, background, different abilities, and on — access to community, and we take that with us into the in-person Pesach Seders of 2022.

L’Shanah Habah. Next year, with more inclusivity!

Community | What I hope we learn from two Passovers in social distancing exile

Abby Stein is a rabbi, educator, author, speaker, and activist, born and raised in a Hasidic family of rabbinic descent, now working to raise support and awareness for trans rights and those leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy. She co-founded Sacred Space, and her book, “Becoming Eve,” was published in November 2019.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Lessons from two Passovers in social distancing exile

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What I hope we learn from two Passovers in social distancing exile

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