What do you think we should do about Passover coming up and the coronavirus situation? We would be starting to clean out our cupboards now, but instead we want to make sure we have supplies on hand in case we are stuck at home. And what about seders?
Though many of us like to plan way ahead for Passover, right now, no one can plan way ahead for anything. Whatever I say here will probably be outdated the moment it gets posted because the news (and the virus) are moving at a rate that’s hard to follow.
Passover is still three weeks away, but many of the closings, cancellations and recommendations for staying around from large groups are already extended through April. Not a person on Earth knows what will be happening in the coming weeks, and Jews all over the world will have to contend with celebrating Passover in extraordinary circumstances. The uncertainty is both terrifying and, potentially, unifying. This will be the year that this happened.
Judaism is full of mandates to ensure that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, takes precedence over all else. For many synagogues, this value was behind the decision to cancel in-person services and programming for the time being. Many Jewish leaders have been comparing our current situation to the story of Rav Yisrael Salanter, who urged his community in Lithuania not to fast on Yom Kippur in 1848 during a cholera epidemic.
So. What to do now? Make sure you have enough non-perishables to get through at least two weeks at home, with the understanding that unless you’re quarantined or stores are ordered to close, you’ll be able to do some replenishing. Maybe buy more rice, which you can continue to keep through Pesach, rather than pasta, but otherwise, shop for your needs.
Plan to “sell your chametz” even if you don’t normally, or plan to give it away to someone who could use it. The economic impacts of this current situation seem to imply there will be plenty of people who would be grateful to take free groceries, and many people who will, in fact, need to rely on this kind of tzedakah. The caveat, of course, if that if you think you might be sick, don’t share anything with anyone.
I can’t think about Pesach shopping right now. Our usual seder crowd is likely to be significantly diminished because of everyone’s changing plans. If anyone is sick or quarantined, we won’t be able to welcome guests at all.
I don’t have room to store lots of extra food, especially with everyone in my family at home all day for at least two weeks. But more so, finding my favorite pesadic chocolate or stressing about which brand of matzah is less likely to be broken by the time I open the box all seems much, much less important this year.
My thinking on seder is likely to evolve as the situation itself evolves. We’ve already seen Jewish leaders putting out incredible online resources for services, for learning and simply for being present for each other as much as possible during this unsettling time. These will continue, I’m sure, and more and more will focus on Passover.
If your practice allows for the use of technology on holidays, there likely will be virtual seder options. Some people may relax their stringent cleaning traditions either out of necessity or because of reorganizing priorities. Travel will be difficult, if not impossible. Social distancing will likely still be in effect, and we will need to make sure our friends and neighbors don’t feel alone, even when physically separated.
And, after all of this long answer, the real truest thing is that we don’t know. We can’t know. We can only each do our best to prevent the spread of this terrible thing and to know that, in Judaism, that really is the priority.