As is the case throughout much of the world these past few weeks, Israel is in virtual lockdown due to the continuing COVID-19 Crisis. In order to ensure that people didn’t go spending the Passover Seder with their extended families, thus increasing the risk of spreading the infection (as happened during Purim, last month), the restrictions were tightened and we were “requested” not to leave our homes at all, from 6 pm. Wednesday evening till 7 am. the following morning. I could not, surely, have been the only one to think of that first Passover night, some 3,500 years ago, when the Children of Israel gathered in their houses in the Land of Egypt, at one and the same time fearful yet hopeful, their doorposts marked with the blood of the Paschal Lamb so that the Angel of Death might recognise and pass over their houses, as they awaited divine deliverance from bondage.
Tens of thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands – of Israelis (Yours Truly among them) – followed the emergency regulations but managed to unite their families by connecting during the Seder service via Zoom or Skype. The local mobile phone company Pelephon reported a 400% spike in the use of the Zoom app on Wednesday evening, in comparison to the same time the week before, and a 70% spike in the use of Skype. Other families found divers ways to connect with friends and relations, without deviating from the Emergency Regulations but without having recourse to modern technology – although one group of Sephardi rabbis did issue a halakhic ruling, permitting the use of video-conferencing technology, in this specific emergency situation, and under certain conditions. Needless to say, their ruling immediately aroused controversy. Those who did not have access to the appropriate technology, or who did not accept the ruling of the Sephardi rabbis, found other creative solutions. I heard of neighbours in an apartment building, who set up family tables in the communal courtyard, each nuclear family at their own table, but with the tables the requisite 2 metres apart. Other families ate on their balconies, or on the pavement outside their houses, so that they were “together” with the other residents of their block, yet still “in their own homes”.
Another feature of this utterly unique Seder night was the initiative (I believe, though I may be mistaken, by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau) to get everyone to come to the balcony or the window at exactly 8:30 pm, to sing the Four Questions, a key part of the Passover Seder, traditionally asked by the youngest member of the family, and beginning with the words “Ma nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleilot?” (מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות – How is this night different from all other nights?)
How different, indeed.
And it did not end with the Ma Nishtana, which actually comes quite early in the Seder service. It continued after the meal, with the Grace After Meals, when we thank the Almighty for his goodness and praise him with Hallel – “for his lovingkindness endureth forever”.
And so it was, from Rosh Pina to Ashkelon, from Haifa to Jerusalem, from Bnei Brak to Ashdod. Maybe not always in complete synchronisation – that’s not so easy to do with Zoom or Skype, where there is sometimes a time delay, especially if, as we did, you are including friends and family upon three continents and in four or five different time zones, or if dozens of residents spread out along an entire block are trying to sing together. And yet, unlike in other times of trouble, from the Spanish Inquisition, to the dark days of the Holocaust, when Jews were forced to hide away in small groups and celebrate Pessach in secret, this year, our people defied this scourge that has come upon the world and went out of our way to celebrate the Festival of our Freedom in the open – and, in spite of everything – TOGETHER.
Chag Sameach (a Happy Holiday) and Shabbat Shalom (a Peaceful Sabbath) to you all.
It’s good to hear that people are resourceful during this time.
Chag Sameach my furiend….it’s been a strange holiday indeed.
These are scary times, but with faith we will get through. Chag Sameach! XO
I like how you all managed to have a superb celebration despite all the social restrictions:)