What should we do about the quarantine and celebrating Passover with our family? My husband is an only child. His parents are in their 70s and have other chronic health conditions. We had been planning on spending the entire holiday together. Our family has been strictly quarantined for the last week. The grandparents have been quarantined for the last five days. If we’re all still healthy, can we get together for the holiday? If not, how do we make the most of a lonely seder?
I feel obligated to remind you that I am neither a doctor nor a rabbi, but here we go anyway. As I predicted, last week’s column about Passover preparation was obsolete essentially the moment it went online.
Thanks to your question, I’m glad I have another chance to be, as one reader said, “realistic” rather than in “denial.” Passover this year will look different from anything most of us could ever have imagined. And, above and beyond all else, health and safety is the priority.
What that means for most people is that seders should be held with the immediate family you’ve been spending time with during this period of social isolation.* If I’m doing the math correctly, since your family and your in-laws have all been strictly isolated for more than 14 days, virus-wise, you should be a blank slate and able to spend the holiday together.
But there are no guarantees. The virus can be asymptomatic and contagious at the same time. We know kids can be carriers without appearing sick. And it’s well-documented that age and underlying health conditions increase the risk to individuals. (This is all from various reputable articles I’ve read, but again, not a doctor. Consult your local health authorities.)
I find it hard, given all that, to recommend that you and your in-laws get together this year. There’s so much still to learn about this virus, and caution and distance seem like our best defenses on an individual level.
This is a time to get creative, to be flexible and to hope that this is an isolated situation (see that — virus jokes!). There are countless numbers of Jews, including a lot of Jewish educators and programming professionals, who are spending their at-home time right now creating guides and commentaries and resources for people whose Passovers are being disrupted. And, truly, the holiday is disrupted for everyone.
Do a little research on what might be fun for all of you from a distance. If your practice allows, think about what a virtual seder might look like. If you’re not comfortable with technology after sundown, think about what parts of the seder you can do together virtually before sundown.
*(If you are reading this and have been spending this time as a single person alone in your home, based on my understanding of the health recommendations and my concern for your mental health, I would like to suggest finding one or two other people in a similar situation to spend time with. You would, of course, need to vet and understand what their social distancing practices have been, but I don’t think, for seder or otherwise, that being completely isolated is the only choice. Germany has a ban on gatherings of more than two people, but even that is not telling people to remain completely solitary.)
Please remember that this experience we’re living through right now is basically terrible for everyone. It is so far outside our contemporary frame of reference that there is nothing to compare it to.
No one wants to spend Passover alone or away from their families. People, everywhere, are terrified. We all want this pandemic to end as quickly as possible with as many lives spared as possible and, sadly, for this Passover, keeping our distance seems like the way to do it.