Facebook Post by Rabbi Perlin in the Time of Coronavirus (3/24/2020)

Tuesday’s Post 3/24:  Passover Panic No More

With all that is going on, last week I bought five pounds of matzah at Giant.  In my mind, I knew that Passover this year was not going to be like Passovers in the past.  And if you are like me, you are worried about how we will keep Passover this year, whatever your observance – from the food we will eat to the seder will have.  Passover Panic is starting to set in.

When we lived in Virginia full time and had seders here, we took a pilgrimage to Maryland shortly after Purim to stock up for Passover.  After all, what would life be in our kosher Virginia home without Kosher for Passover ketchup, or mayo, or dairy products?  In recent years, we have had the blessing of living in LA where there is an abundance of products to rival Israel in store after store, so the anxiety of Passover scarcity has not been an issue.

Mah nishtana ha-Pesach hazeh mikol haPesachim?  Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?  This Passover will be different, because we are living through a plague of epic proportions right now.  Not a plague that lasts a day, but one that will be around for weeks and months, that will require vigilance and sacrifice for a long time to come.  A plague that is literally killing people all over the world.

So, we have talked about it and will be observing Passover very differently this year.  I was heartened to hear from our Reform Movement leaders yesterday, during our online convention that internet and Zoom seders are on their way.  And to look for the positive: this may be the year where I can attend seders on both coasts with both sets of children and grandchildren thanks to the internet and the time difference.

My Passover Panic has been about what we will eat as strict Passover observers.  I have always taught that if our ancestors could keep Pesach under the most extraordinary circumstances, we could live without the bread, the pasta, the cereals, the take-out food, restaurants, kitniyot (beans, rice, peas, corn products of all kinds), and all of the food variety that our spoiled lives provided for seven days.  But, this year is different and I am not the only one stressing about what to do.

In the traditional community, people go to their rabbis and the rabbis tell them what to do.  Reform rabbis don’t tell people what to do.  We offer options and suggestions. We let people decide for themselves.  And by doing that, I know as a rabbi that sometimes my people have made choices that make me cringe – like the time I met a congregant during Passover, at Giant, who had just three things -beer, bacon, and bread- in her cart and it took everything in me not to scream.

Gary and I have decided that we will be doing a modified observance this year and my Passover Panic seems to be over for the moment.  We are absolutely not taking a pilgrimage to Maryland.  And we may not even visit Wegman’s.  We will make do with what we have – fresh fruits and vegetables if we can get them, eggs if we can get them, and we will use regular milk and yogurt this year.  I am giving us a dispensation to eat things we might not otherwise eat.  I found a few things on Amazon the other night and got a recommendation for kosher meat that will come packed in dry ice by Passover.  With the move, we have run out of meat, as was our plan.  Ah, the best laid plans.

I am reminded that our ancestors who lived through the Inquisition celebrated Passover by packing a suitcase to sit beside them at the table and by telling the story of Passover.  I have lots of packed suitcases and I think I know the story by heart now.  They didn’t do all the things we usually do to commemorate our freedom.  And many of them remained faithful Jews under the most dire circumstances.   Even during the Holocaust, some Jews in camps observed the day.  So we will not postpone Passover, we will remember in a different way.

So, what am I saying?  This Passover is different.  When you are living through a plague, remembering plagues of the past is important, but cannot supersede the crisis of the moment.  Most of our observance was created by rabbis and continues to be legislated by rabbinic Judaism.  And as rabbis give, they can also take away.  I am taking away the restrictions that will create hardship.  Those who are ill or pregnant don’t have to fast on Yom Kippur.  You can break Shabbat to save a life.  Judaism is a religion of compassion and practicality.  (All that being said, my answer to my student who asked if he could have a ham sandwich on matzah for Passover is still NO! ;>)

We have enough to worry about now without worrying about Passover.  Passover Panic is not a good use of our time and energy right now.  So chill.  Make peace with whatever you decide to do.  Find an online seder and do Passover differently this year.  Have a virtual seder with family or friends.  But, don’t stress about the food.  A stress free Passover… now that would be a novel idea!