Ahavas Sholom – an Historic Landmark and Sacred Space

Newark's Last Remaining Synagogue born of the Great European Migration at the turn of the 20th Century

145 Broadway, Newark, NJ 07104
Phone: 973-485-2609 | Email: cahavassholom@optimum.net


Simon Says, April 8, 2020

     Pesach is approaching; it will be here tomorrow. Most of us are accustomed to attending seders with a lot more than two, or three, or maybe five or six guests. We are accustomed to attending seders like the Brotherhood Synagogue in Manhattan throws: more than 100 guests. We are accustomed to attending seders like my cousin Willa throws: more than 30 guests. We are accustomed to attending seders like the Ahavas Sholom community seder: more than 35 guests. But not this year.

     The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into our lives, and not having a family seder or community seder is the least of our problems. When I last consulted the New York Times, the United States had almost 400,000 coronavirus cases, and almost 13,000 had died. Almost everybody knows somebody who has been infected by the coronavirus, or knows somebody who knows somebody who has been infected by the coronavirus. We are stuck in our homes, venturing out to the supermarket or other stores wearing masks and gloves (I hope that you are wearing masks and gloves) and returning home feeling that we did all the things that should protect us, but nevertheless feeling like we have a ticking time-bomb in your body. Imagine that feeling multiplied by a factor of ten or by factor of hundred, felt by doctors, nurses, EMTs on the front lines treating people who have been infected. I know that your cancer does not make my cold feel better, but we need to keep our feelings and anxieties in perspective.

     Perspective. The Torah tells us that our ancestors were enslaved in Egypt for many years (who knows how many), and the Torah records the trials and tribulations of our ancestors on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Our ancestors complained about the lack of food; many of us have enough food to eat for one or two weeks (or more). Our ancestors complained that the journey was tough; most of us have entertainment: television and the internet, books and jigsaw puzzles. Most of us have cell phones that will enable facetime (or the equivalent), so we can see our children, our grandchildren, or our parents and siblings. We are re-discovering the people that we live with. We are far better off than our ancestors as we approach the holiday that marks freedom of the Israelites.

     Some of us didn’t buy the complete panoply of Pesach food because we were afraid to enter a supermarket, or when we overcame our fear the Pesach food was not on the shelves. Some of us are disappointed because this Pesach is not the usual Pesach we want to keep. Remember perspective: our ancestors in the Warsaw Ghetto had to celebrate Pesach (the final battle in the Warsaw Ghetto began on April 19, 1943 – Erev Pesach) in more dire circumstances than we now face.

     We need to resort to Zoom seders, but take comfort that we can have a seder in the first place. Take comfort that we can see our friends and relatives on our computer screens, and talk to them in almost real time. Take comfort that you can break the middle matzoh, and pour wine in Elijah’s cup. Take comfort that the youngest guest at the seder can sing the Four Questions, and everybody can hear him or her. Take comfort that we can pick on the smartest family member and relegate him to the Simple Son. Take comfort that we can sing the familiar songs, and take comfort from the ritual: we Jews have celebrating Pesach for almost 3000 years, and this year, despite the impediments, we are a link in the chain that will stretch 3000 years into the future.

     Hag sameach, or, as one of my law school classmates said almost 50 years ago, “Have a zissen Easter.” Roll with the punches, and know that this too shall pass. Be safe, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and may God bless the multitudes of infected people with a speedy recovery.