As a child, I used to love celebrating Passover. I enjoyed taking extra pieces of matzah with me to school so my friends could try it. Many of them liked the taste so much, they would ask me each day for another piece. I was always amazed at how they could love it so much… or more specifically WHY they loved it so much. I never could figure it out. But, the part I loved the most was being with my family for the big Seders whether it was at my grandparents’ house, my aunt and uncle’s house, or later at our house. There was something very special about being able to gather together with our family and friends. Bumping arms as we reached for our wine glasses or to get an extra helping of chopped liver. In fact, some of my favorite childhood memories still to this day come from these gatherings and celebrations.
As an adult, I still look forward to celebrating Passover, partly because it elicits these memories, but also because I still enjoy being together with family and friends. Having that taken away from me this past year, or more specifically, not being able to comfortably do it, has been one of the hardest aspects for me during the pandemic.
With Passover beginning later this month, this year’s celebration, like last year’s, will be more subdued. And yet, I am still looking forward to it and focusing on one specific aspect.
Now, the logical thought would be for me to focus on the plagues since it feels like we have been living through one for the past twelve months. While understandable, I have actually been thinking about mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for Egypt, or more specifically its meaning.
Our tradition teaches us that the word means “narrow places.” While I am sure that there have been times that I have felt constricted or confined, I do not remember feeling like I do, going through what we are experiencing now.
The pandemic has been devastating, frustrating, upsetting, and difficult to watch and go through, especially because it feels like there is nothing we can do as individuals. And yet, if we step back and take a bird’s eye view, it is nothing compared to what others have endured in the past. Think about it. While we may feel like we have had our freedom taken away from us because of the restrictions and closures that have been placed upon us, we have done so from the comfort of our homes with things like Netflix, Zoom, the internet, our phones, and much more. I think it is important to keep this in mind.
Now, I am not trying to minimize the impact the pandemic has had on our lives—whether it be financial, emotional, physical, or mental, I just think we need to keep some aspects in perspective.
Hopefully, in the very near future, we will be able to leave this most recent “narrow place” and get to experience a similar feeling that I am sure our ancestors must have felt after they crossed the Red Sea into freedom… after spending 400 years under the tyranny of Pharaoh and his taskmasters.
I hope you and your family have a wonderful Passover. And as we conclude our Seders each year…Next year in Jerusalem. Better yet… Next year in-person, surrounded by family and friends.
Jason Moss is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater
San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.