Why this night will definitely be different

April 3, 2020 by Michael Kuttner
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As Jewish families worldwide gather this year to celebrate the beginning of Pesach (Passover) there will be no need to ask why “is this night different from all other nights?”

Michael Kuttner

The stark contrast will be self-evident. From the absence of grandparents, siblings, married children and grandchildren, the extended family is nowhere to be seen. Guests who normally are a part of the Seder will be absent and many will inevitably find themselves home alone.

The other major casualties decimated this year by the coronavirus pandemic will be the communal gatherings organized by Synagogues and welfare agencies for homeless people and those without families. Cruise ships, hotels and resorts which in recent years have become favourite venues for those wanting to escape Festival preparations and cooking have seen their once a year super lucrative businesses crash as mass cancellations escalate in the face of quarantine, isolation and social distancing enforcement takes hold.

For the first time in the living memory of most people “do it yourself” Seders will be the order of the day. For those who find culinary preparations an insurmountable challenge, there are still caterers who at a price will prepare and deliver sumptuous meals with all the Pesach ingredients and flavours. Here we are spoilt for choice as there are so many alternative caterers available covering every imaginable kashrut category and offering gebrochts, non-gebrochts, kitniot and no kitniot. In addition, the range of matzot on sale spans the spectrum from regular to wholemeal, gluten-free to shmura and everything in between. Spare a thought however for Jews living in remote and small communities where the provision of kosher food and requirements for this Festival is hard to come by. This year in particular unfortunately supply and delivery problems have complicated preparations in many countries.

Young married couples who their entire lives have never needed to worry about catering or organizing their own Seder because their parents or grandparents took care of that are suddenly thrown in at the deep end. No doubt most of them will be able to manage but it’s going to be a steep learning curve and for some a shock to the system. In retrospect however it will be a salutary lesson in becoming more independent and being able in years to come to take over from ageing parents. After all, that is how it has always been throughout the generations only this year the process has been accelerated somewhat.

We are fortunate to be living in an age where communication is so easy and accessible. When we were youngsters there was no Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom. Any sense of isolation is thus alleviated as isolated families can communicate not only verbally and in writing but also visually no matter where in the world they may happen to find themselves.

It shouldn’t be hard to guess what the topic of conversation will be this year as we read about the plagues which were inflicted on the Egyptians as their supreme leader refused to let the Hebrews go. Interestingly it is recorded that the Hebrews who were all living in the province of Goshen did not suffer from any of the plagues that the rest of Egypt experienced. Could this have been the first recorded quarantine of an entire population? Perhaps it has a lesson for us today as we are instructed to isolate ourselves. Not doing so obviously has dire consequences. This Passover we have had to seriously modify our way of life in order to prevent catching the latest plague. This has meant avoiding communal gatherings for social or religious purposes and employing common sense in the way we interact. The fact that far too many still do not seem to have internalized the message merely illustrates that human idiocy remains undiminished by past disasters.

There may very well be a shortage of toilet paper in many countries but not in Israel. Here we have a dire shortage of eggs. As any good Jewish balabusta (Yiddish = good homemaker) knows the Festival of Passover always sees a big increase in the consumption of eggs. This year it seems that our local chickens cannot keep up with the demand and as a result frantic calls for action to avert an egg drought have been issued by frustrated shoppers. Realizing that this situation could very well be as serious as the coronavirus pandemic our leaders have swung into action and extra supplies of this vital Pesach staple are winging their way to our shores. A huge sigh of relief all round.

As Israelis sit down to their smaller than usual Seder (only one here thank goodness) they will be very mindful of the fact that maybe a governing coalition will have been cobbled together. As usual it will all go down to the wire and we won’t know the small print until the very last moment. Suffice to say that once again Netanyahu has managed to make the opposition blink first. Congratulations to Gantz for finally putting the interests of the country ahead of his own personal ego and realizing that hopping into bed with a party dedicated to the dismantling of the Jewish and Zionist character of the country is political madness. In one fell swoop Bibi has brought about the splintering of his main rivals’ party and at the same time dealt a fatal blow to Liberman’s hope of acting as “kingmaker.” If the rump of the once-dominant Labour Party (two MK’s), also join the emerging coalition this will finally put paid to any socialist revival.

By the end of Passover we could find ourselves with yet another bloated Government full of jobs for the boys and few girls. Of course yet to be sorted out is who is going to get which plum ministry and how many deputies will be appointed. With the economy in free fall, thanks to the pandemic, jobless numbers soaring and businesses as well as individuals under financial crisis, the challenges ahead are gigantic.

Without a doubt the topics of conversation around the Seder table this year will cover all these subjects and instead of the usual four questions, there will be a multitude.

We face an uncertain future. However, just as Jews from the time of the Exodus until today have confronted and triumphed over seemingly insurmountable threats so we will also emerge stronger and hopefully wiser.

May we all celebrate this festival of freedom in good health and may all of us be privileged to celebrate in Jerusalem our eternal Capital next year.

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.

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