April 6, 2020

Dear Friends,

In two days we will be saying, ma nishtana ha-laila hazeh micol ha-lailot? How is this night different from all other nights? However, it is not only this night which is different from all other nights, but this year! First and foremost, I hope that this message finds you and your loved ones in good health and in good spirits as we approach the festival of Passover.

The environment we find ourselves in presents us with many challenges and getting ready for a seder is just one of them. Personally, Nicole and I love the tradition of having large seders with family and friends on the first night and then celebrating our freedom with the CBI community on the second night. I am going to miss these big gatherings. Nevertheless, we must follow the directives from our medical authorities by staying home as the preservation of life, pikuach nefesh, is the one Jewish value that overrules almost all other Jewish imperatives. Even with our stay-at-home orders, we can still do our best in making this Passover a meaningful one.

I hope you will join Andrea and I as we lead a brief seder this Thursday evening at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom. We have taken more safety precautions with this site and so far we are pleased with how it has allowed us to stay connected during this pandemic.

You can find the seder link by contacting the office before 4 p.m. Thursday, April 9, or in the weekly e-news on Wednesday, April 8.

As for a haggadah, you can access an online copy of A Different Night by contacting the office by 4 p.m. April 9, or through the weekly e-news on Wednesday, April 8.

Passover is the most widely celebrated festival amongst American Jews and it also happens to be the one which causes the most stress and anxiety too. We tend to be more strict in our observance of Passover than any other holiday. We clean our homes of hametz; we shop for unusual foods; we look carefully at labels like never before; we prepare for days leading up to the seder. This year I hope that you will consider lessening the burden you might be feeling in replicating seders from the past. Due to limitations of certain products and more importantly, to refrain from shopping at all, please know that it is the intention, or kavanah, that truly matters, and not whether the wine we drink has a kosher-for-Passover label.

Below are some other considerations to weigh as you prepare this week.

Matzah: According to Jewish tradition, we are obligated to avoid eating hametz throughout Passover, but we are only commanded to eat matzah at the seder. If you don’t have a box of matzah, perhaps a friend or someone from the CBI Mitzvah Corp can leave some for you on your doorstep.

Karpas: Usually we place parsley on our seder plates as a symbol of spring. Karpas can be any vegetable. Some even use potatoes when parsley is unavailable.

Maror: If you are like my household and don’t have any horseradish, you can use any other vegetables or fruits that can bring a tear to the eye if consumed raw, such as hot peppers or fresh ginger. In Israel, romaine lettuce is commonly used as maror.

Egg and Roasted Shankbone: According to the Talmud (Pesachim 114b), a roasted beet and rice will suffice. In our home, we dab a few drops of hot sauce (to symbolize the blood) on our seder plate since we have a vegetarian kitchen.

Kitniyot (Legumes): In 2015 the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement formally allowed Ashkenazim (who choose) to consume kitniyot during Passover. And this year the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, within the movement, encourages Jews to consider putting aside the Ashkenazic custom of eschewing legumes (beans, corn, rice, lentils) so long as doing so will ease the burden of observing Passover in 2020.

Celebrating our freedom should not feel burdensome. If there was ever a time to relax some traditional restrictions so that we can enjoy this festival, it is now.

I hope you all have a meaningful and memorable seder this year and don’t forget to have Elijah wash his hands before he enters your home.

Chag pesach samech,
Rabbi Joshua Samuels