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Why is This Passover More Anxiety-Ridden Than All Other Passovers?

April 5, 2020 | by Mark Miller

It’s just your immediate family for the Seder this year. God help us.

You all know Passover. It’s a holiday of traditions and customs. The matzah ball soup, the slavery story, and especially the tradition of inviting guests, all sorts of family members, strangers, singles alone for the holidays, and of course, the needy. That’s all well and good in theory. But in practice, in Spring of 2020, we can toss that tradition and custom right out the window. Otherwise, they tell us, by inviting all these guests, we’re creating a breeding ground for Coronavirus. Suddenly, the act of inviting Passover guests has become nearly suicidal. And I’ll just assume we all want to live.

That being the case, you know what you have to do this Passover. That’s right, shelter in place and socially distance yourself from any guests other than the ones already living in your home. Meaning just your immediate family. That’s it. And yes, it does sound like a horror movie, but cheer up. I’ve put together this little guide for making Passover work without guests and without your requiring too much therapy. Hey, if we can put a man on the Moon, we can try one Passover with just our loving family. (Note: If your family is not loving, don’t worry. I sensitively cover that obstacle in my section titled, How to Extract Yourself From Your Family’s Spiraling Descent Into the Bowels of Hell.)

First, just because you can’t invite guests to your seder doesn’t mean you should forget about them altogether. Contact them by phone, text, email, or carrier pigeon, explaining how sorry you are that health concerns forbid you from inviting them to your seder this year, but you’re going to set a place for them anyway and think of them, primarily fondly, during the evening. Those of you who are more industrious can create life-size representation dolls of each guest and sit them at the table. That way, you can take pictures of them “eating” their meal, which you can later send to them with the line, “You really enjoyed yourself at our seder and didn’t ask to take home most of our leftovers this time.”

Now, some may suggest setting up a computer, so they could attend your Seder in Skype or Zoom format. Nice try, but not really in the spirit of a traditional Passover Seder, is it? After all, if you allow that, what’s next? Virtual reality Seders? Your Aunt Minnie attending in hologram format? Uninvited guests offering their Youtube Seder songs to compete in your America’s Got Passover Seder game show? That way lies madness. (Seriously, the rabbis said not to do this.)

Okay, back to your Seder with only your nuclear family. After the first half hour goes by, it will become crystal clear that the remainder of the evening will fall into four primary Passover Sheltering at Home categories:

  1. Fighting.
  2. Being bored.
  3. Having nothing to talk about.
  4. Finding a way to shorten the seder before you snap and do something everyone will regret.

Traditionally, the table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. In other words, the stuff reserved for when company is there. But as we’ve established, company is not there, so I’m not going to tell if you use the plastic china from the dollar store. And the silk napkins? Save them. Your Scott or Coronavirus-priced way-off-brand paper napkins should do just fine. That is, unless you ran out prior to The Great Toilet Paper, Paper Towel, and Napkin Shortage of 2020. In which case, feel free to cut up an old t-shirt into napkin-size segments.

Has the fighting begun yet? If not, be patient. It should kick in shortly. All families fight. And for Jewish families, forget soccer; fighting is the international sport. It breaks up the boredom and the having nothing to talk about. But today, you can talk about all the guests whom you would have invited. Your father can say he’s glad so and so is not here because he never liked that self-obsessed rat anyway. This affords your mother the perfect opportunity to start fighting with him about that. And that fight is interrupted when they both notice your brother reaching for and quickly consuming the food before its proper time. Another argument ensues and your sister announces that she hates this family, and runs off in tears.

Eventually, it’s time for the Four Questions – Coronavirus Edition:

  1. On all other nights, we eat without wearing disposable laytex exam gloves, but tonight we can’t actually touch the food?

  2. On all other nights, we don’t have to remove our N95 respirator masks in order to eat, but tonight papa has added the phrase, “remove respirator masks”, to the Haggadah?

  3. On all other nights, we have friends, guests and strangers sharing our table, but tonight it’s just my own nuclear, dysfunctional family?

  4. On all other nights, we sing songs, share stories, and go to the mall, but tonight we have nowhere to go because if we leave the house we’ll be arrested?

Now, some good news: You can shorten your seder by leaving the 10 Plagues out, since we’ve all been living through one. Which will come as a relief to frogs and flies whom for centuries have resented being categorized as plagues. Sorry, fellow living creatures.

Not to add to your disappointment about the non-traditional nature of this Coronavirus-themed Seder, but it’s best that you hear this from me: Elijah won’t be coming. As you know, we fill Elijah’s cup as the fifth ceremonial cup of wine poured during the Seder. And we leave it untouched in his honor, since he will one day arrive as an unknown guest to herald the coming of the Messiah. Obviously, with all the current sheltering at home regulations, you should no doubt not get your hopes up too high about this being the year Elijah graces us with his presence. I’m betting it’ll happen during a year in which we’re not spending $30 for a 6-roll pack of toilet paper.

Finally, dear Lord, you’ve reached the Hallel, the fourth glass of wine. As you and your beloved nuclear family sit at the table, six feet from one another, wearing your nitrile gloves and N95 protective masks, you recite, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Assuming the airlines will have resumed international flights, that is. Then, you pray some more, giving thanks to God’s mercy and kindness, thanks to the survival of the Jewish people through a history of exile and hardship, and thanks that you made it through this challenging seder without falling asleep, going out of your mind, or killing someone very close to you. And what more can we ask?

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