By Ellen Tilman
About two weeks before Passover 2020, my adult daughter arrived at my doorstep holding an Instant Pot and all the food from her New York City apartment. She was accompanied by her older brother, who was similarly supplied.
They had come directly from several weeks in self-quarantine at our vacation home. The COVID-19 pandemic was raging in New York City. They were to stay with us for Passover and remain until they felt safe to return to their Manhattan apartments. Both were working from home and could eat and sleep anywhere with good internet access.
My husband and I downsized nine years ago to a three-bedroom townhouse with a much smaller kitchen, refrigerator and storage. The house was large enough for the occasional visits from our three adult children and their families. In an emergency, everyone would have a place to sleep, but only barely. Suddenly, an emergency situation was upon us. We would celebrate Passover at our home for the first time in about 10 years. We would be only four people at the seder table.
In past years, we attended Passover programs throughout the world, ranging from the mountains of north Georgia to beautiful resorts on the Adriatic Sea in Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and the historic island of Crete. Celebrating Passover at home during a pandemic would be a very different experience. Fortunately, I had kept my Passover dishes when we moved. They were safely stored in the basement.
Sharing a small home with your adult children is a learning experience for everyone. We had not lived together since our children were in high school. They had matured into independent, competent adults. My husband and I had gotten comfortable in our empty nester routines. My son set up a home office in the basement. My daughter worked from the second-floor loft. I ordered two additional shelving units to hold the extra food and pandemic supplies.
It quickly became evident that our “high speed” internet was not strong enough for four people to work from home at the same time and engage in video conferencing and Zoom calls. My son works in technology. He reviewed our most recent internet provider bill and its web page. He quickly realized that we could upgrade our service for less monthly expense than we were paying. He suggested that we stop the monthly rental on one of our cable boxes and purchase a Roku-enabled television for the master bedroom. The cost of the television would be amortized in about one year. Several days later, we were up and running.
He also served as our purchasing agent. Following Passover, he was able to find and purchase yeast, canola oil, three types of flour, et cetera from a variety of online sources when they were not available in our local stores. I added these supplies to the inventory on my new shelves.
My daughter acted as our conscience and safety adviser. She reminded us not to go somewhere unless it was absolutely essential and to limit these trips. I began to arrange for curbside pickup between my biweekly trips to the grocery store. She would help to wipe down the groceries with a bleach wipe when they were delivered.
She insisted that we always wear a mask when leaving the house and use hand sanitizer when re-entering our car. I have bottles of hand sanitizer in each car and my pocketbook. We all wash our hands often and keep liquid hand soap at every sink in the house.
Everything was not always perfect. Both children reminded us to treat them as adults and not children. One day, the upstairs toilet started to leak. My husband called the plumber to make a repair. The adult children were not pleased that we let a stranger into our home. We assured them that we have known this plumber for more than 30 years and that he would be masked and remain at a safe distance.
Our children returned to New York City in the middle of July. They stayed with us for nearly four months. When they left, we assured them that they always have rooms in our home. Now that they are gone, the house is too quiet. Whenever I turn on my new TV or look at the 1-pound package of yeast in my refrigerator, I miss their presence and helpful suggestions.
It is now almost one year later. My husband and I have each received two COVID vaccinations. I have enrolled our family in a residential Passover program for 2021. We are not yet comfortable flying to a new destination in the world. I want to be in a location with quality medical care in case someone gets sick. Thus, we will get in our car, drive to NYC to collect the two adult children and drive to Connecticut for the program. We will sit with only our family pod in a socially distant dining facility.
All religious services and activities will observe social distancing. Everyone at the program will have a negative result from a COVID test administered no more than 72 hours before arrival. I believe that all possible health and safety precautions will have been taken.
I look forward to meeting new people and sharing stories of how all of our Passover experiences for last year were definitely “different from all other nights.” Hopefully, we will laugh and rejoice as we recall how “once we were slaves in Egypt and now we are free.” L’shanah Habaah B’Rushalyim. Next Year in Jerusalem.