Pesach with families under quarantine

The youngest child stands up on their chair and asks: “Mah NIshtanah Halailah hazeh mikol Haleilot?” Why is this night different from all other nights? We then go on to list all the differences between Seder night and other nights of the year.

Perhaps, this year, the question may feel more like, “Why is this year different from all other years?” And the answer may be that every other year we have a Seder night with family and friends, but this year we are all alone.

In some ways, everything is different; our world has turned on its head. We can’t leave our houses, our kids are off school and we can’t celebrate Pesach together with grandparents and friends. However, in other ways, nothing has changed. For thousands of years, since the Jews left Egypt, we have been holding Seder nights to commemorate our escape from slavery, and this remains the same.

So how do we, as parents, bring the Seder to life despite all the differences?

1 Make a mental shift: Try to come to a point in your mind where you can accept that it will be different, and that’s OK. One way to do this is to imagine that you are at the Seder with all your family friends in the year 2021. How will you want to talk about last year’s Seder when you were under lockdown? Would you like to look back and say, “Gosh, it was hard but in the end we had a very special and beautiful evening.” It starts with realigning how we think about it.

2 Preparation: With a few days to go, begin to prepare your children emotionally and practically. Make them aware that Grandma and Great Uncle Joey won’t be coming this year and that it will be strange without them. For Orthodox families this will be especially challenging, as they won’t be in contact with their extended family for three days. Perhaps think of ways to send things in advance to relatives to show them that they will be missed. Then, with the kids’ help, prepare them for the family Seder – perhaps for younger children by creating a Haggadah booklet with pictures to colour in and with older children asking them to prepare something to say about the Haggadah in advance of Seder night. For some children with SEN (special educational needs) remember that Seder can be a sensory experience – begin to introduce the smells, tastes and textures of the Seder, eg, the crunchy matzah, the sweet taste of charoset and the shiny silver Seder plate or kiddush cups. For the more creative among us, decorate the room where the Seder will take place with pyramids and a desert or a sea splitting down the centre of the table and Duplo people walking through the middle.

3 On the night: It is tempting to keep things low-key and understated, especially as there are no guests. But this sends a message that we only make things special when other people are around. How we dress impacts how we feel. If we slouch around the house in trackies, we feel very differently at the end of the day than if we make an effort to get dressed. For Seder night, even in isolation, encourage everyone to dress in their smart clothes, lay a beautiful table and enjoy special foods. Hopefully, this will help to lift everyone’s spirits. As there won’t be as many interruptions and stories from guests and family as there may normally be, perhaps, on the night, plan some games, stories and activities to keep everyone entertained. If your children are able, have them plan something too.

This year

Yes, this year Seder will be different. Hopefully, though, some of the differences will be positive as we have more time and space to focus on our immediate family and perhaps learn something new from each other and tap into our culture and heritage in a very different way.