Wine glass
Art by Marissa Espiritu

Seder for One

By Erin Thompson

 

What makes this night different from all other nights?

This question bounced around in my head, even in the days before the 15th of Nisan rolled over. It felt unusually significant in a time where the nights seemed to bleed together. I wanted to do something, anything to make a distinction. 

I found myself sitting in my parent’s house, feeling a keen sense of loss. In an alternate universe where the world didn’t end, I would’ve been at my rabbi’s table with the rest of my recently graduated introduction to Judaism class — people who I have grown to consider something of a spiritual family. But alas, the world did end (to an extent) and I found myself alone on one of the most significant days of the Jewish calendar. 

Passover, more than other Jewish holidays, is about family and friends coming together. People will fly across the country to join their family for the seder — the ritual dinner commemorating the freedom of the Hebrews from Egypt and the subsequent birth of the Jewish people. If unable, they would even go to a stranger’s house just for the feeling of connection that’s so essential to the holiday. Obviously, this wasn’t an option in these days of quarantine and self-isolation. 

My decision to hold a seder for myself came at the last possible minute, as I took the dinner I spent the day cooking out of the oven. That was initially all I planned to do: make a special dinner and swear off chametz (leavened bread and/or grain products) for the next week — just for the peace of mind, for the feeling that I was doing something. I looked at the time, the Haggadah (guidebook) I recently got in the mail and the fact that I was alone (with the exception of my mom watching Investigation Discovery in the living room, quietly ignoring me running around the kitchen.) I made charoset a few days earlier for fun and I still had some leftover; I had a mostly full bottle of Manischewitz and a few boxes of matzah.  

What the hell, I thought, pulling out the largest plate I could find. 

Within the next few minutes, I had a lit candle, a cup of wine and a seder plate consisting of leaves I dug out of a salad bag (maror and chazeret), a potato slice (karpas), a raw egg (betzah), the two-day old charoset and a Post-it Note drawing of a bone (zeroa). “Not to be used as a replacement for the matzah at the seder,” read the box of Yehuda brand Toasted Onion matzah squares. I quietly ignored it. 

You are blessed Lord God of us, King of the Universe, who breathed life and sustained life, and shepherded us through to the current season. 

I drank the first cup of wine and continued forward without looking back. I flipped through the Haggadah, mumbling the words in English without taking a breath, acting out the commands as best as I could. Dip the maror in the charoset and the karpas in the salt water; break the matzah and give the afikomen to my bemused mom since there are no children in the house to hide it from; drink two more cups of wine and pour a special one for Elijah — open the door and leave the cup outside because even an undead prophet must abide by the rules of social distancing. (Minutes later, my mom snuck outside to drink the wine at my request, still confused but fond enough to go along without too much questioning.)

I drank the last cup of wine and said the same words that countless others would repeat sometime in the night, “Next year in Jerusalem.” 

I thought of next year and of all the days between now and then. So much could happen — perhaps by this time next year I would have the date for my beit din; maybe I would’ve already gone to the mikveh; or maybe I would be in the same place that I am now. Either way, at that moment I knew I had something to look forward to. 

As I watched “The Prince of Egypt” with my roommates (apologizing as I entered the chat nearly half an hour later than I said I would — despite everything, it still took an hour to get through the Haggadah) the question from earlier continued to bounce in my head. 

What makes this night different from all other nights?

In my mind, the answer wasn’t the standard, “On other nights we [do that] and on this night we [do this],” — though that answer would still be appropriate. I felt that I didn’t have any obligations to do what I did. No one would’ve faulted me for having a quiet night, for eating a normal dinner and keeping the moment in my heart. What made this night different for me was the active choice. I made the choice to put extra stress on myself, to connect with the people I know and the people I will never meet. It’s a choice I’ve already made by keeping my own approximation of kosher and it’s a choice I’ll continue to make by abstaining from chametz for the next week. 

It’s difficult, but if I wanted things to be easy I definitely came to the wrong place. 

At the very least, even though I was alone, I was very far from lonely.