It was the first night of Passover and I was feeling miserable. By now, I recognize the ache. It’s the one I get when I am thousands of miles away from my family.
Away from the days of being young and just naturally assuming there would be a seder night with family. Away from old familiar melodies and reminders. I remembered when my mum would say a prayer in a funny British accent, or how we would all be tapping our hands vigorously on the table while singing. I’d be sitting with siblings and cousins, playing games with the matzah, sneaking a sip or three of heavily sweetened kosher red wine and counting down the time until we could eat.
Forty years ago, after leaving Israel, I moved to London, where there were always relatives to fill that gap. However, back in the younger days, my Jewish identity took something of a back seat. As a teen in Israel, I always wondered why I wasn’t allowed to join my friends at the beach on Shabbat. As a child, we were raised as Orthodox Jews but, when we immigrated to Israel, some of the traditions, sadly fell by the wayside.
Vancouver eventually became my permanent home and, initially, I’d always worry where I would be spending the Jewish holidays. Frequently, friends and kind strangers invited us to their homes. It only seemed to deepen the family longing pangs.
When I became a parent, my husband and I began to host our own celebrations and seders and we always included strangers and synagogue friends. Fortunately, when my oldest son was 3, we became friends with another family. They knew some family-less people and it wasn’t long before we all celebrated the Jewish holidays together, a tradition which has continued – until recently.
When the pandemic began and social distancing became necessary, holiday gatherings were cancelled. Zooming on our phones became the norm. It was different. Something of a novelty.
A few days before Pesach this year, I glanced at the secular calendar, which indicated Sunday as the eve of Pesach, so I arranged for our kids and partners to come Sunday night. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon Saturday that I realized I had goofed and Pesach commenced that night. By 4 p.m., the sadness had crept in. My sister had phoned from Israel and filled me in on the lovely seder she had attended.
My brother had sent photos. All the well-wishers had phoned and sent greetings.
For the first time in many years, my husband and I would be all alone and unprepared. There was little motivation to do anything. We ordered an Indian (vegan) meal to be delivered. I forced myself to light the festival candles and mutter some prayers. Then, the phone rang for the first time in hours.
It was a good friend. She sounded excited. Although she had hosted many a seder elsewhere, she was holding her first with her daughter in Vancouver, rather than attending an organization’s or other event via Zoom.
“You must come over and see my table! It’s so beautiful! Even just for a few minutes,” she said.
I begged off because we would be seeing our infant grandson the following afternoon and just couldn’t take the chance. Besides, our delivery would be arriving any minute. “Cancel it! We have lots of food here!”
I would have dearly loved to have dropped everything and gone to her house. I recalled how, some 20 years earlier, she and her daughter had attended our seder. We settled on a FaceTime call and sang the Shehecheyanu blessing together.
A knock at the door; our food had arrived. We said goodbye. But my friend’s enthusiasm was infectious. Her phone call, when I so needed to be remembered, reminded me that we weren’t, in fact, alone in the world.
We pulled out Haggadot and some of the seder plate preparations for the following day. Miraculously, there was enough kosher wine to get us to the third glass of wine and the spilling of the wine for the 10 plagues. My husband and I took turns reading while the candles flickered.
Unlike most of our past seders, it was quiet and peaceful.
This year, I really asked myself: “Why is this night different?”
The answer could be lengthy but I do know that, on this particular night, there was a little soul intervention.
Jenny Wright is a writer, music therapist, children’s musician and recording artist.