Karolyn Benger finds unusual and fun decorations for Passover. 

Passover is my favorite holiday. Every year I decorate the house with pictures of Egypt and Israel, paint “blood” on the door frame and create a multisensory experience to tell the Passover story. I have even been known to rewrite popular songs with Passover-themed lyrics and perform them for our guests.

In other words, I usually have a lot of fun this time of year.

Passover is an opportunity to connect with each generation and with our roots as a people. The seder, the order of the meal and the retelling of our liberation are all elements of that connection. Passover is observed more than

any other Jewish holiday among American Jews, and I suspect these links are the reason.

Yet, this year we still cannot have guests, which means we cannot safely share together the joy of our relationship to our history, our people or

each other.

Here we are celebrating a holiday whose sole purpose is to link our people through history and we are unable to come together in person. This feast highlights the 10 plagues, and we are stuck in the midst of a modern-day one. Passover is a festival articulating the birth of our nation, and we are forced to celebrate as individuals.

The worst part is that we’ve been doing this for a year.

Arizona began its lockdown before Passover last year and after 12 months of social distancing, the strain of the pandemic is taking its toll. Not having guests for Shabbat and Yom Tov, not hanging out at community events, Zooming into each other’s lives instead of meeting in a shared space has all

caused strain.

Personally, I have never felt more alone or isolated.

So, what do we do with our second pandemic Pesach? How do we make this holiday meaningful, relevant and joyful?

I’ve toyed with a few ideas on how to conquer my sadness as this holiday approaches. I’ve even researched Passover in Cancun. (Its Chabad house is not offering meals this year — I checked.)

More seriously, I’m also seeking ways to help those in need. And there are things we can do and that need doing. By providing matzah, grape juice and meals, we can help lower income families celebrate.

But this still doesn’t alleviate my sadness of not being together for the seder, and I don’t have any answers that will make me feel better.

So I tell myself I need a change in attitude. By thinking differently about the experience, I may be able to overcome my feelings toward it. I have to realize that it’s not the same experience and it’s not what I’m used to — but maybe that’s the point.

COVID highlighted many problems and inequalities in our society that I hope will now be addressed. I am certain a post-COVID world overall will be different from the one before it and a new normal will be established.

If I apply this same lesson to myself, I have to consider what the silver linings are in a pandemic Passover. Because there are silver linings.

Rather than hosting numerous people, I can focus on my children, listening to their thoughts and insights about the seder. Instead of exhausting myself preparing for guests, I can delight in relaxing before the holiday. I will not spend a fortune on Passover food and I will make much less of it.

That’s all good, but it doesn’t change the root cause of my frustration: I’m tired of the pandemic. I’m frustrated by the isolation. I’m angry about it being disregarded by so many, resulting in mutations and more time spent social distancing and isolating.

This pandemic has taught us some powerful lessons — if we choose to learn from them. We are all connected. We are not isolated in this world because our actions affect others. We need each other. We are social creatures and we need our communities.

And what better time to highlight the importance of community and connection than on Passover, the birth of our nation?

Passover is when our people, united through genealogy, became a true nation. We overcame oppression and took back our liberty. We didn’t act alone; we did it together. Passover is the story of our collective redemption. It is not only a story of Moses, it is about all of us struggling together to achieve

our freedom.

Passover was never meant to be celebrated in isolation. We say: “All who are hungry, come and eat.” This is a communal event.

Yes, today we are physically apart, but our connection is still deep.

We are drawn together across history, continents, over a thousand years of persecution through hope and redemption. Passover is one of many stories of our collective survival in the face of persecution. Together we are strong and we survive.

We must take that lesson to heart and remember that even though this year we are alone, next year we will be together. JN

Karolyn Benger is a student at Yeshivah Maharat and owner of KB Enterprise, a consulting firm in Phoenix specializing in social justice. She was appointed by Mayor Kate Gallego to serve on the Human Relations Commission for the City of Phoenix.

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