Typically, this time of year has us looking forward to the enriching values, traditions, and celebrations of the spring season. But there is a gloom hovering outside in spite of the blossoming trees.
I could never have imagined a Passover seder where I would discourage others from joining, out of fear for harming their health or that of my own family. How do we honor this moment in this intense, anxious atmosphere of social distancing and global grief?
One of my clients in JCCA’s Kesher program has been navigating the rough waters of the COVID-19 virus just like thousands of others in his Queens neighborhood. His father is fighting for his life in the hospital. His mother is sick at home. This young 19-year-old, E, has been tasked with leading the Passover seder and asked me for guidance. As I began to go through the different aspects of the seder, E stopped me. “Why is G-d doing this to me?” he asked. I was shocked by the question, but glad that he felt comfortable enough to ask. “I don’t know,” I told him, but I shared my own story with him.
Thirty five years ago, my family’s Passover holiday was also disrupted by serious illness. My older sister was deathly ill and needed immediate surgery to save her life. We stayed at a guest house near the hospital and planned to have the Passover seder next to her bed once she was awake. As we walked toward the hospital, I asked my father, “why did G-d to this to her?” My father answered that he did not know. However, he continued with a question of his own: “what does G-d want us to do with this?” At the time, I had no answer. Later, I asked my father if we were truly celebrating Passover correctly because we were not at home. He turned to me and said wisely, “Tonight, you learn that a home is not just four walls.”
Then E interrupted me. “We are gonna grow together. That is what G-d wants us to do with this. My brothers and I are going to grow through this suffering!” It was the exact lesson that I myself learned 35 years earlier. I was so proud of E for asking, and for guiding himself toward strength and purpose.
Today, we have been stricken with a fearful germ that has almost completely turned off society around us. Our initial reaction may be to hide in fear, but our stay-home quarantine can be the source of our strength, blessing, and even immunity. It is not a matter of staying home within our four walls that will empower us. Rather, it is time to go deeper within us to dust off those relationships that we call home and find that growing, green, blossoming nature of the spring, even within the darkness in the air. We must seek out those friendships and relationships that are life preserving and enriching.
Spring is here. Many of us are in pain, worried for our loved ones, neighbors, and people around the world we have never met. We do not know when this season of grief and suffering will end, but it will. The relationships we cultivate and nurture now will blossom once we emerge, so let us follow the lesson of spring. We can invigorate those places that lay dormant for so long and turn them into life once again.
With all my best to you and yours for a safe and meaningful holiday,
Rabbi Ilan Ginian, MSW
Director, Kesher & Partners in Caring