By Ruthie Meles
Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh: Why is this night different from all other nights? This is a question asked annually at the Passover seder, but this year had a deeper, more prominent meaning.
Nonetheless, seders were still able to go on in many forms, whether you celebrated with just your immediate family at home or did some type of virtual celebration.
I have been in Jewish day school my entire life and was reflecting on our current pandemic situation with the mix of Pesach, which led me to a little debate (or machloket if you will) with my friends about whether or not they felt avoiding chametz this holiday was more challenging or easier.
Most of my friends thought not eating chametz was harder for multiple reasons, one being that a popular quarantine activity is baking. There are plenty of kosher-for-Passover cake mixes and recipes out there, but we all know it is just not the same, let alone baking challah, which there is no real substitute for on Pesach (except matzah, of course).
Another friend explained to me how everyone in her family observes differently and that some family members are more religious than others. She said how it was sometimes challenging finding kosher-for-Passover food due to the mixed observance levels. On the other hand, I argued that it was easier not to eat chametz because we are restricted. It is much harder to make a Wawa run or stop at a convenience store for a snack.
I started working at House of Kosher in mid-February and have been blessed, to say the least. Working during this pandemic has given me a new perspective on our Jewish community and its needs. Fortunately, I had kosher L’Pesach food available at my fingertips and, quite frankly, I do year-round.
This is what we aim to do at House of Kosher — make kosher food widely accessible for Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish community. Every few days or so, I’ll be chatting with a customer, and they’ll tell me how they drove over an hour away from Allentown, Lawrenceville or even Cinnaminson, New Jersey. Their commitment to Judaism (Yiddishkite) and willingness to travel so far is highly respectable and always puts a smile on my face.
The concept of distance and travel is something to which I very much relate, as I am a senior at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. I have attended Barrack since ninth grade and commute an hour every day from Northeast Philadelphia to Bryn Mawr. Although it was not always easy coming home at 7 or 8 p.m. from sports practices and games, I would not have wanted it any other way.
Barrack has instilled many values in me, the most notable being Derech Eretz. I look forward to capping off my experience there with community service of helping elders get the groceries they need in these trying times, then continuing my studies at Temple University in the fall.
Although it may be hard to be together during these times, it is important to stay in contact with people virtually. Barrack has done a phenomenal job of having virtual Jewish activities weekly; some include Havdallah, Kabbalat Shabbat, challah baking and much more.
It is also important to remember that we must stick as a community and support one another. As it is said in Tehillim (Psalm) 133:1, “how good and pleasant it is when G-d’s people live together in unity.” May we all have achdus (unity) and strength to get through this pandemic.
Ruthie Meles is a senior at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.