DMT Beauty Transformation: Jewish People From Around The World Tell Us How They’re Celebrating Passover
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Jewish People From Around The World Tell Us How They’re Celebrating Passover

April 10, 2020DMT Beauty

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This year, Jewish people can't celebrate Passover the way we usually might, surrounded by family or friends and loved ones — reflecting on slavery, tears, bitterness, survival, and welcoming spring and new chances. Because of the serious restrictions and isolation made necessary by the COVID-19 crisis and the pandemic, religious holidays are a little different this year.

With many kinds of food sold out in stores and many grocery delivery services down for the count, a lot of things just aren't available — including typical Passover (or Pesach) foods, like brisket or lamb, eggs, and even matzo. Jewish people have had to get creative: some of us had to substitute bitter herbs with whatever green vegetables or dried herbs we might have, use Vitamin C tablets for an orange, and perhaps even dog bones in place of shank bones. Many found themselves on Zoom calls with relatives to ring in the holiday, or virtual services offered by local temples.

In light of the many ways that people are observing Passover around the world — and the ocean-to-ocean camaraderie that's resulted in these difficult times of change — we've collected stories from Jewish people who are celebrating Passover this week and sharing their experiences.

Jenn

Arlington, VA

"My family is spread across the northeast, with my parents and I both in northern Virginia, my brother in New York, and aunt, uncle, cousins and their families in Connecticut. This year, nobody is traveling, even those who live close to each other. It's taken multiple grocery trips over multiple weeks, but we were able to find everything we needed for the seders (and hopefully the rest of the holiday), including 3 small-ish cuts of brisket from H Mart (Korean grocery store) — it's all going into the same crock pot, anyways.

I found a plastic toy seder plate set at Wegmans that I shipped to my brother in New York, along with one of our Maxwell House haggadahs. We're not sure who is technically 'leading' the service, but my cousin and his wife are the ones who set up the Zoom meeting. In this house in Virginia, we're still planning to use the dining room, and the china, plus multiple devices since there are 3 of us and we'd prefer to not be sitting on top of each other - I'm planning to use an iPad on mute just on our seder plate!"

Hannah

Paris, France

"I'm an American graduate student living in Paris and this is the first Passover I'm spending without my family. I was able to find fancy French matzo and am going to make matzo ball soup for myself. It was definitely hard to get all the ingredients, but I'm really excited to be doing this. I'm going to do a Passover toast via Zoom with my family in the U.S.

I'm also planning on doing a Zoom seder date with my boyfriend in London, who isn't Jewish. He has never experienced any Jewish holidays and I'm really excited to share this with him."

Marisa

Westchester, NY

"This year for Pesach I'm doing a Zoom seder the first night with my colleague and both of our families, who will be calling in from New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida. I'm a huge Alison Roman fan so a surprise treat for me was that New York Times Cooking released several recipes for Passover by her along with a video. Definitely looking forward to trying her recipe for potato kugel because you've got to find the joy where you can, right?

For the second night, I think I might do a smaller, low-key Zoom seder with just my girlfriend since this will be our first Passover together and I want to be able to start to establish traditions with her even if we can't be in person."

Gabe

Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan

"I was raised in a secular Jewish family in Vermont. I've lived in the former Soviet Union for four years now in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. My time here has brought me back to my Jewish identity somewhat for a variety of reasons. This Passover has been difficult. The city is in almost total lockdown with a curfew and movement restrictions. Having an in-person Seder has been out of the question, as the only person who I can see is my roommate.

Because Bishkek's Jewish community is quite small and I don't have a relationship with the one synagogue here, I was not able to find matzo whatsoever. My parents attempted to send me a few boxes via our preferred international mail company, but due to COVID-19, the package is slated to arrive in a few weeks.

As someone who is returning to Judaism, having a seder and matzo is important but not tradition set in stone so to speak. Instead, I've focused not so much on the liberation side of Passover but the survival side of Passover. The finding hope in a hopeless situation side. Today, I celebrated by giving all of my chametz to my roommate. Right before sundown, I opened the haggadah that I wrote last year and started reading. I lit the candles, said the prayers, poured myself the wine, and went through my haggadah. To me, spiritual devotion matters more than fulfillment of ritual. God will get that these are extraordinary circumstances."

Kate

Pittsburgh, PA

"This year, celebrating Seder has been made substantially more difficult by having limited access to food. We weren't able to stock up on the usual suspects, so we have to rely on what's in the house. I am still searching for a virtual Seder to join, as connecting with others is one of my favorite parts of Pesach and I'm not affiliated with a congregation at the moment.

As for the food, finding proper matzoh is out of the question at this point, sadly. However, much to my surprise, my non-Jewish partner baked us just enough matzo for tonight. I was so touched! They did their research and set everything out, setting a timer for 16 minutes, so as not to leave the flour and water mixed together for too long.

We plan on roasting a sweet potato slice cut into the shape of a shank, as a substitute for Zeroah. Luckily we DO have a bit of horseradish in the refrigerator for the bitter herbs. Thank goodness! We will enjoy some of the special tea that we usually reserve for guests in place of wine (or grape juice for me, as I am keeping sober right now.)"

Nell

McLean, Virginia

"My parents, ages 93 and 94, are in Chicago, as is one sister. Another sister and her husband (both law professors at Harvard) and their daughter are in Cambridge. My husband and I are in McLean VA outside of Washington DC and our daughter is in LA with her fiancé and son is in Brooklyn with his girlfriend. We have lawyers, teachers, writers, and a Hollywood costume designer. My husband designed this photo for the title page of the Haggadah.  

If the purpose of Passover is to make the experiences of thousands of years ago present to us, the upheavals of this moment certainly bring it into sharper relief. My favorite thing about Passover, my favorite holiday, is the way the seder reaches everyone and makes the story new again, no matter what your level of understanding or experience, no matter how old or young you are, no matter your learning style. This year, we will not be dipping the same greens into the same salt water or opening the same door to Elijah, but it has inspired us to connect to our family of origin in a way I find immeasurably comforting and true to the spirit of the holiday."

Evan

Brooklyn, NY

"I do not generally host my own Seder – my sister also lives in NYC, and we would normally spend the first night at her place having a lovely traditional Seder (read: long but ultimately delicious) with our parents, her fiance’s parents, my girlfriend and her mom, and usually some friends. However, this has been cancelled – we will instead do it by video chat.

I have not been to the grocery store very recently, but the last time I went, the Passover selection was non-existent. I was lucky to grab the last package of easy-mix matzo ball soup they had. Hopefully I will be able to find some matzo before the seder, and making the charoset and putting together a Seder plate will definitely be a slightly sad exercise, if only because I know that my sister’s food would have been much tastier."

Roz

Melbourne, Australia

"My wife's family had a Zoom Seder tonight. We all mostly live in Melbourne, Australia, and our Seder also had family from Adelaide and Sweden! 

It felt like a normal Seder in some ways. Their family is Modern Orthodox so we followed a pretty typical Seder layout. My wife's youngest sister (aged 20) writes a Pesach play each year that we act in with our teen nephews. This year's theme was COVID-19 and the Australian government's response (especially the fines for going out), which she managed to link to the Pesach story. I play Pharoah each year for some reason!

We each had made a Seder plate — some more fancy than others — and managed to participate in all of the rituals! For the second night, we are having a 'postmodern Seder' with my immediate family, also over Zoom! Mine will be quite different - we won't follow the Haggadah and it will be pretty progressive, feminist and arty, with queer overtones! We will probably mostly end up ranting about politics and discussing our hopes and dreams for social justice! My sister, a playwright, proposed that we each contribute something creative/symbolic during the Seder."

Caitlin and Jake

Brooklyn, NY

Caitlin: "I'm doing Zoom seders with both Jake's family and my own: His last night, mine tonight. My family tends to be very meal-focused and speed through the haggadah ("Time for the festive meal!") so it should be interesting for us."

Jake (pictured): "My favorite passover tradition is our Charoset making, as we do it the same way that my grandfather used to. Whole walnuts are crushed with a hammer into a fine powder (yes, you heard that right), Apples are grated, and the whole thing is mixed with Manischevitz for a traditional mortor-like consistency. I'm also making a giant brisket for my roommates (one of the two is also Jewish), and since my family's seder is on the west coast, we'll flip the order (get it? Seder means "order"!) and do the festive meal before I call into the Zoom.

I definitely didn't need to do all that I did, but for me the tradition is the most  important part. This year I was also tapped to give the Drash on Parshat Bo. And in preparing it, I became obsessed with Ex. 12:24 which states that there is a statute we are commanded by God to follow, but isn't hyper-clear on what that statute is. I particularly like interpretations that teach that we are being commanded to observe tradition because that is what prevents "the destroyer to enter your houses to smite [you]." The main point is that we are commanded here to hold a Passover, because the very act of practicing our traditions is what keeps our community and our peoplehood alive. That's more important now than ever."

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

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Elly Belle, Khareem Sudlow

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