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Reporter's Notebook


Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

By now you have already finished at least one amazing (or shvach) seder, sang songs until midnight (or at least until the Zoom span of attention waned), washed your hands the ritually required 13 times (I’m certain that’s the halacha this year), drank four (or maybe 10) cups of wine, and told the story of how God delivered the Jews from Mitzrayim (Egypt), which in Hebrew means a narrow place, so that we can feel that we, too, have moved from slavery to freedom.

We are certainly in another narrow place right now, confined to our homes at best, with a plague all around us and an indiscriminate Malach HaMavet, angel of death, run amok. The mezuzahs on our doors will not help us this time around, and if Elijah knocked I’m sure we would send him away.

We are living in a moment when doctors and nurses (and other first responders) often have the grim task of deciding who shall live and who shall die; who will be admitted to the hospital and who will stay at home; who will get a ventilator and who will have none.

In this upside-down world, people are searching not for chametz but for matzah, for toilet paper, and more important, for face masks, personal protective equipment, and ethical guidance: When is it OK for medical professionals and other frontline workers to decide not to go back to work? Can they refuse, like a firefighter, to run back into a dangerous building on the verge of collapse? 

At least we are better off than our ancestors who held their seders during the bubonic plague, when they had no understanding of modern medicine and no hope for a vaccine, and were only just beginning to experiment with a quarantine.

Perhaps the true miracle this year is not whether we believe God will deliver us, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, from this plague, but that so many of us are holding seders at all. That is really a supreme act of faith — in tradition, in humanity, and in the power of our stories.

And perhaps like our ancestors, when we say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” it is not the place itself we long for, but a spiritual land of milk and honey where this plague does not reign, where we have hope for the future, and where our souls can find some rest.

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