Lessons from a solitary seder

Barbara L. Finch

By Barbara L. Finch

I did not grow up with seders.

By the time I became a Jew by choice, I was in my fifties.  I had been to a few seders, hosted by friends whose children and grandchildren turned them into raucous affairs.  I also attended one seder that was conducted almost entirely in Hebrew, a language that baffled me then and now.

So when it came time for me to host my first Passover celebration, I was a little intimidated.  I mentioned this to a rabbi, who responded, “How hard could it be to cook a brisket?”

That was when I realized I had to take this centuries-old Jewish tradition and make it my own.

I started by following the guidelines of “In Every Generation: A Family Haggadah” published by Kar-Ben Copies Inc.  I made my way slowly through this publication, learning about the seder plate, the cup for Elijah, the afikomen and all the other symbols of the celebration.  Then, I created my own Haggadah, keeping the order, the Hebrew blessings , the story, the questions, the plagues and Dayenu intact.  I left out things I did not understand (such as why we break the middle matzah, because no one has ever explained to me why it has to be the middle one).

This Haggadah has served me well for almost a dozen years.  I have added to it (orange and shoelace on the seder plate; current plagues of poverty, discrimination and greed to go along with the lice, frogs and hail), and subtracted from it (with only older adults around the table, it seemed silly to hide the afikomen).

And then came 2020, the plague of coronavirus, and a technical glitch that, at the last minute, prevented us from virtually joining distant friends and family on the East Coast.  My husband and I looked at the fresh tablecloth, the white candles, the seder plate, the bottle of wine, and decided:  we would do it ourselves.

And so we did, just the two of us, remembering and observing the story that is as pertinent today as it was thousands of years ago.  We talked about what it means to “come out of Egypt,” and the narrow places that confine us as we move through the world today.  We dipped our parsley into the salt water and talked about the bitterness that too many people experience.  We piled charoset onto our matzah and discussed how we could find sweetness and joy in our daily lives.  We had two or three glasses of wine talking about the plagues of today: poverty, ignorance, greed, selfishness, despair, war, cynicism, discrimination, materialism and pandemics.  

As we concluded our solitary seder, we talked about what was missing.  I forgot to add wine to the charoses.  We forgot to open the door for Elijah.  The dear friend who gave me her kiddush cup who died a few months ago.  And, of course, the people who would, in an ordinary time, be gathered around the table.

And yet, for now, it was enough.  We have hope for a better world and courage to do the work.  For now, this is sufficient; for that alone, we are grateful.  Dayenu! 


Barbara L. Finch is a member of Central Reform Congregation and a 2019 Jewish Light “Unsung Hero” recipient. She lives in Clayton.