Hey OOTOB readers,

Hope you’ve all been well! I wrote a little something for a local Orthodox publication. Hebrew terms notwithstanding, I hope you will enjoy it. Have a wonderful holiday! Xo Ruchi

Pesach is coming. 

I know, that strikes fear in the hearts of all self-respecting Jewish women, but bear with me for a sec. Think of Pesach two years ago: regular sedarim, regular travel, regular normalcy. Now think of Pesach last year. Lonely. Quiet. Isolating. And: NO CLEANING HELP. Last year, starting from the beginning of lockdown, I had terrible sciatica. I thought I would never stand erect again. From the beginning of lockdown (as soon as I found out my kids were going to be home from school for “at least five weeks” hahahaha) my back pain was so severe, it took weeks till I was back to normal.

And it was erev Pesach. Which means that I was lying on the couch, feeling like I was in labor (I wasn’t) while my kids cleaned the house for Pesach. That was not a situation I’d like to replicate any time soon.

This year feels a little more hopeful. 

We know what we’re dealing with. We’re no longer wiping down our (many) Amazon boxes with Windex (for the record, I never did that) or thinking we have to wear gloves to the grocery store. We know who has to quarantine, for when, and for how long. Many of us have gotten vaccinated or have antibodies. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

But in some cases, there are family members who have been lost to us, who will never join a Pesach Seder again. There are relatives whom we haven’t seen for a year or more, missing huge chunks of each other’s lives, Zoom and FaceTime notwithstanding. There are those of us with lingering symptoms, some inconvenient, others unnerving and frightening.

There are things we’ve learned that I hope will never change. Simchas don’t have to be huge and unaffordable to be meaningful. We can join a Zoom bris in Israel, whereas previously we would have missed it entirely. Some medical appointments should stay virtual forever. While I miss teaching in person, I love that women from all over North America can join — and I plan on keeping that up. I wish more elderly people could have access to the technology that keeps us connected. How incredible would it be if home health aides for the elderly would incorporate FaceTime or Zoom with grandchildren? Maybe our community could create an initiative to provide iPads to the elderly to stave off some of the loneliness and isolation.

This Pesach, too, I’m thinking about freedom. How we’ve taken our freedoms for granted! The freedom to travel. To hug. To daven in shul without a mask. To have simchas here again without restrictions. To visit our elderly loved ones without fear. To breathe. 

Will we ever go back to taking those for granted? How long will it take, in a post-Covid world, to forget?

Pesach is a yom tov of remembrance. Remember! Remember that you were slaves, and Hashem took you out to make you free. It’s not just that we must remember the bad times, so that we’ll appreciate the good times, although that’s certainly an important part of the gratitude that Pesach represents. It’s also that we must remember who set us free. It didn’t happen by itself, nor in a vacuum. Our lives, too, are not haphazard. It’s all a setup, and we must pay close attention to how the story unfolds so we can understand it properly. 

So if you have immunity, remember that Hashem set you free. And if you have been able to keep working, remember how precious that is. And if you can travel, hug, breathe, love, taste, smell, care — remember that it’s all a gift from Him.

Our experience of being strangers in a strange land didn’t just disappear from our national consciousness. It molded and shaped our identity, forever. So too, being traumatized by a global pandemic can’t just vanish once “Covid is over” (although I doubt it’ll go as quickly as it came). We must inhale that trauma and allow it to mold and form our new identities. 

How can you just go back to normal after being through what we’ve been through? And even though I personally experienced nothing worse than sciatica, and a relatively minor case of Covid, we’ve all seen the pictures and videos. We’ve all seen the ICU wards, glimpsed the ad hoc field hospitals, heard the labored breathing, listened to the stories of those alone in hospitals till the end, davened with long lists of cholim in our hands.

So how can we ever, really go “back to normal”? Is that even a goal? Just as each year we sit down to a Seder, and tell the story, in all its gory detail, maybe one day we will have a way to manage all the feelings this pandemic has stirred — the good, the bad and the ugly. We somehow need to ritualize what happened: the gratitude, the fear, the unknown, the grueling decision-making. We need to acknowledge the heroes of our community who made things happen when no one knew what was happening: doctors, nurses, teachers, principals, Bikur Cholim, Matan B’Sayser, Na’aleh, and so many others. We need to create ritual around this deer-in-the-headlights feeling: what just happened?

But in the meantime, we’re still kind of in it. While this Pesach won’t be as rough as last year, it won’t be as blithely casual as the year before. So we’ll be cautiously optimistic, sit down at our tables with whomever we can be with, and give the due gratitude we now know can never be rote. We’ll sing for what is, and cry for what we’ve lost. We’ll celebrate where we can, and pray for next year’s celebration to compensate for where we can’t. 

Next year in Yerushalayim.

Next year unmasked.

Next year, healthy and free.

Next year in person.

Next year together.

But never the same.

And that’s a good thing.