Passover in the Time of Coronavirus - Shabbat Hagadol, Pesach

Passover in the Time of Coronavirus - Shabbat Hagadol, Pesach

By Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor and President of the Faculties; Professor of Jewish Thought

What a difference a year makes—or a week, or a day. Last year at this time, reflecting on a period of rising anti-Semitism in America and Europe, I wrote that “discussion at your seder table will be different from all Passovers past.” This year, many of those discussions will happen virtually, and attendance at physical seder tables will likely be limited to close family or friends. Many people may be sitting at the seder table alone. The plague is upon us, striking every part of the world without regard to national border or religion. The holiday will not be the same, because we are not the same.

It has been my custom for a number of years to speak with students as Passover approaches, in keeping with the message in this week’s haftarah that God will “reconcile parents with children and children with their parents” before the prophet Elijah returns to announce “the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.” (I encourage you to have similar intergenerational conversations at your seder.) Two List College students shared their thoughts on the meaning of the holiday with me via a Zoom call a couple weeks ago; several others had been scheduled to join us but were busy packing or already on their way home, JTS having announced the closing of its residence hall. My conversation partners expected to get on a plane soon to be with family. That was the aspect of Passover that meant the most to them, and they worried that the risk of infection might prevent grandparents from joining them at the seder table.

The section of the Haggadah dealing with th