One of Judaism’s most important holidays officially begins with the first seder onApril 8. Pesach in the Time of Corononvirus, however, will be very different.
During these difficult times, I think of my parents, Fran and Bill Cohen. .As did many of the Greatest Generation, they went through several challenging times.In 1919, the Spanish flu was raging throughout the world. My mother, born in 1917, fell deathly ill. The family doctor saved her life by making a deep incision into her right lung to drain the fluid.
To help in her recovery, my grandmother Ethel left New York City with her daughter for Alburgh, Vermont. They stayed for several weeks with Ethel’s brother Paul and his wife Bertie at their home on Lake Champlain. One of their visitors was Ethel’s step-mother’s sister and her grandson Wilfred Cohen. Fran and Bill didn’t meet again until their blind date in 1939. They were married in August 1940. When anyone asked her as to how she got the huge scar on her back, she loved telling people how she survived the flu and met her future husband—all before her second birthday.
Several other cataclysmic events shook their world. The Great Depression, World War II, news of the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War I am sure at times they were afraid—for themselves and later for their children and grandchildren.
As I write this, we are in the second week of our own national crisis. Larry and I worry about our friends and family—especially our own children.Thankfully, my daughter-in-law delivered our grandson days before the mass shutdowns in San Francisco were enforced. Adam, Sarah, and the baby are now “sheltered in place” in San Francisco. My heart broke when we had to cancel our trip out to meet the baby. It broke even more when I realized that Sarah’s parents, who only live a mile from them, have only seen him through a window when they have dropped off supplies, including a fresh baked challah for his first Shabbat.
Summit County had the first case of the virus in Colorado. A young man who had skied in Italy before his next planned trip to the Rockies recovered in a hospital only a mile from my daughter Julie and her family’s home. They returned from a week’s vacation with us to closed resorts, schools, and businesses. They too are in mandatory “shelter in place” mode. They are telecommuting between keeping our granddaughter busy with both educational and fun activities, including learning about the height of a giraffe, the life of a butterfly, and the hands-on steps of baking a challah.
As residents of Florida, Larry and I are not yet under the same mandatory restrictions as California, Colorado, and other areas of the country. But restaurants, non-essential businesses, then even DisneyWorld and Universal are now closed down.In our fifty-five plus community, all activities and events have been cancelled or postponed.Most of the people here are respectful of the six foot distance rule, which we practice on our frequent bike rides, walks, and conversations with friends from one end of a driveway to the other.We give each other virtual hugs and then head home.
For the rest of the day, we do what we can to keep busy. Larry and I often sit on our lanai, reading books doing the puzzles, and watching birds dive into the pond behind our house. Larry spends a great deal of time Googling great moments in sports and watching reruns of his favorite shows. I spend an inordinate amount of time on FaceBook and watching Great Performances on PBS. We call and text with friends. We watch television. On the first Friday of the “new normal,” I made a Shabbos dinner, complete with wine and a delicious freshly baked challah—my first since moving down her from New York.
The best part of every day is FaceTiming with our family, an almost daily treat that began on March 10, just before the world changed. Larry and I were planning to go to a play that was being put on by our local theater guild—what was to be our last outing before our own lockdown. Julie, who was very worried about our contracting the virus, begged us to stay home. She must have shared her fears with her brother. Shortly before Larry and I were to leave. Adam FaceTimed with us and offered us a sweet deal: If we didn’t go out, he would keep the camera on the baby. For the next hour, we watched our six day old grandchild poop and pee and eat and sleep and poop some more. With all due respect to my friends in Deathtrap, it was one of the best performances we had seen by a leading actor in our lifetime.
Despite the impact the pandemic has had on our lives, I feel very grateful. Grateful for good health with no underlying conditions. Grateful for the current health of extended family and friends.Grateful for our life in Florida with its abundant sunshine. Grateful for modern technology that allows us to connect with our family and friends, to stream shows and movies, to download library books onto our electronic readers. Grateful that we are retired and not dealing with working at home or—worse yet—possible unemployment.
We also feel grateful to have a fully stocked refrigerator and pantry, as not all people have that luxury. Those individuals in our surrounding neighborhoods who are losing income due to the shutdowns could especially use some help. The refund we received from the cancelled Shalom Club seder went to the local food bank. As our synagogue had already deposited the check, the board called everyone who was attending to ask if their money could go to the same place. Scott Maxwell In a recent column in the Orlando Sentinel, Scott Maxwell offers many other ways to give to veterans, hungry school children, and the homeless. My favorite of his suggestions: “Did you hoard? Pay it forward.” And we call all follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines and STAY HOME.
So why is this Passover different from every other Passovers? We certainly will not be emptying our house of chometz, as we have stocked up on many dry goods that certainly don’t follow strict Kosher guidelines. Community, seders have already been cancelled. Relatives and friends who usually have a houseful for the holiday will have only two or three at the table, possibly enhanced virtually thanks to FaceTime or Zoom.
No matter, I will make a seder for the two of us. In the days that follow—if we can somehow get more than the two dozen eggs per family limit at the local supermarket—we will feast on sponge cakes, matzoh brie, and Passover popovers. Most importantly, we will FaceTime with our family and give each other virtual hugs. And Larry and I will pray that the coronavirus will pass over all of our homes and leave us, like our ancestor, safe, healthy, and free from fear.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the April 2, 2020, issue.