The Passover holiday will soon be upon us, and I find myself thinking, as I often do at this time, “How will this Passover holiday be different from all other Passover holidays?”
During the past couple of years, Passover has been dramatically different from the holiday of prior years. Because of the pandemic, our guests were largely limited to those with whom we live (especially in 2020). Many of us experimented with Zoom as a way to celebrate together, and we had varying degrees of success. Under the circumstances, it was certainly worth the effort, but the seders that resulted were anything but familiar.
Passover, more than any other holiday that I can think of, is structured so that it feels much the same from year to year. (Prior to the pandemic, at least.) The familiarity of the passages in the Haggadah and the traditions of the seder are, for me, among the most powerful and lovely elements of the holiday.
When I was growing up, my family celebrated Passover the same way, year after year after year. This was quite different from the way we celebrated all other Jewish and secular holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah and Thanksgiving, which were very different every single year. At Passover, my extended family would gather at my aunt and uncle’s house in Scarsdale, NY. We would transform the living room into a giant dining area. We would have the same menu every year (gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, brisket). My uncle would give the same lecture about how the afikomen wasn’t hidden in his study and how we cousins weren’t to go into his study during our search. My other uncle would interview each of us on his camcorder. For dessert, we would have a selection of candy that included my favorite – jellied fruit slices. (I only ate them on that one day, each year.)
Every family has its own traditions, of course. Not everyone has a camcorder-toting uncle. Not everyone has the same lecture about the search for the afikomen. And, sadly, not everyone eats jellied fruit slices. But every family has its own traditions. During my college years, I lived far from home and was given the opportunity to attend seders held by families that belonged to the local synagogue. All were quite different. One family had deep discussions about seemingly everything in the Haggadah, and we didn’t eat our meal until very late at night. Another capped the whole celebration at about 75 minutes, giving the seder a “Best of Passover” sort of feel. Each family had an approach and a set of traditions that made it uniquely theirs and made it special in its own way.
These days, there are more ways than ever to create new Passover traditions. It’s possible to create your very own Haggadah, using various resources, such as those on haggadot.com. Some families will continue to use Zoom to bring together far-flung family members. Other families highlight social justice with additional items on their seder plate, such as oranges, potatoes, cocoa beans, bananas, pine cones, cashews, and/or acorns, and they may also put Miriam’s Cup on their table. (Click here to see what each of these items represents.)
This year, the theme of “re-birth” has special connotations as most of us begin to gather together and to return to many of the practices and traditions that we know and love. Whatever your Passover traditions – old or new - best wishes for a wonderful holiday. Chag Pesach Sameach.