Pesach 2020: My Wish for You

Image: A desk and a laptop.

It’s going to be a very odd Passover. All around the world, Jews are gathering, but not at seder tables. We are gathering around laptops and smartphones to hold a “socially distanced seder” — to do our best to observe the commandments of Passover without encouraging the spread of a terrible disease.

If your house is like ours, there is also a makeshift theme to this seder. We didn’t have horseradish, so our maror will be a little bottle of hot sauce. No shankbone is obtainable, so we’ll have a drumstick on the plate instead. No nuts for proper charoset, so I’m putting an apple on the seder plate and using apple butter from the pantry for the Hillel sandwiches. This year, the role of parsley will be played by celery tops. We use what we have.

We are not the first Jews to improvise a seder plate under adverse conditions!

This Passover, we are surrounded by lachatz — stress. Instead of, or addition to Passover cleaning, we learned how to decontaminate our groceries. Invisible viruses are the new chametz, and they seem to lurk everywhere.

So don’t stress over the details of Passover. Improvise. Do the best you can. Do what you can and let the rest go. If you read the Haggadah alone over chicken soup, know that you aren’t really alone – there are many Jews doing the same thing. If you can do only part of the seder, if you settle for watching The Prince of Egypt, it is still ok. Do what you can. Remember all the Jews who have celebrated this holiday under adverse conditions, and let Dayeinu (It would have been enough!) be the theme this year.

Wherever you celebrate, however you celebrate, my wish for you, dear reader, is that some of the sweetness of Pesach come through to you this year. This year we celebrate separately; may next year we all come together again.

A Prayer for Sheltering in Place

Image: The word “prayer” in black over a watercolor. (enterlinedesign/Shutterstock)

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who instilled in humanity the urge to preserve life.

You gave us adrenaline and other hormones to encourage us to fight or flee when we faced trouble. For early humanity that was enough, and we lived to found civilizations.

You reinforced this urge to survive with your commandments.

You have commanded us concerning the preservation of life: “You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which the human being shall live: I am the Eternal.” (Leviticus 18:5)

You have also commanded us: “I call heaven and earth to witness you today: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse — therefore choose life!” (Deut. 30:19)

Now we face a time when some of us are called to action, and some are called to inaction. Those who are called to action by their needs and the needs of society face great danger, but it is in the power of the rest of us to reduce that danger, by sheltering in place and staying at home.

Support us in our time of need, O Holy God. Give us the patience to sit quietly. Give us the will to be patient. Grant us the wisdom to listen to the doctors and scientists and to do what they say. Give us a will to life that will frustrate and defeat the disease that threatens us.

And keep alive the hope that the day will come when we need shelter in place no more, when we will be free to rejoice or to mourn with friends and family.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time and Place, source of our intellect and our patience.

Song for a Plagued Passover

Image: Meir Ariel’s portrait on the jacket of his “Best Of” collection

I have discovered an Israeli song that really speaks to me – my modern Hebrew is rough, so I hope that the translation below isn’t too far off. Avarnu et Paro – Na’avor Gam et Zeh is a song about things that wear at our humanity, and the impulse in Jewish tradition to persevere anyway.

There is an expression in Hebrew: gam zeh ya’avor — “this too will pass.” In this song, the singer, Meir Ariel (1942 – 1999) sings about all the things that annoy and discourage him, and finishes each verse with “We passed over Pharaoh, and we shall pass this too.”

Passover this week calls up our communal memory of slavery in Egypt, and of our deliverance from that terrible situation. We are now in the midst of what I can only describe as a plague, a miasma of disease and in some places, mismanagement as well. It is one of those terrible times in history in which many individuals do not survive, and it is a struggle to retain our humanity. Still we can survive it as a people, if we persist.

This is my mantra for Passover of 2020 / 5780: “We passed over Pharaoh, this will pass over too.”

Income tax, they made me pay extra
Value Added Tax, they got me with that too,
The electric company has cut me off,
The Water Administration shut me off -
I saw that I was deteriorating into a crisis, I started hallucinating ...
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

A computer error cost me a million, ATM swallowed my account balance, 
An electronic secretary denied me an interview, 
The DMV denied me a license 
To a mechanical lawyer, I dropped a token in the mouth slot ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

I learned a useful and necessary profession 
So I don't get pushed and pressed, I persevered, 
I was diligent although the system was failing, 
I found myself with the work getting sparse ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

Sometimes I am trapped on a crowded bus 
Or coming out of an exit, I am tense and urgent, 
Sometimes in the street jostling and rubbing, 
In demand for some relief, 
In the back, in the ribs, sometimes in the face, that elbow ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

I turned aimlessly for a while, Without definition and without compromise, 
I lost height and consciousness, I thought maybe that defined it, 
To give an sharp and clear answer - I was torn about it. 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.
 
And now I'm stuck in the cutting edge, 
And to be honest I'm pretty indifferent. 
The situation is bad but I don't feel, 
I have no heart for all the stuff the screen presents. 
And the people's government goes down the road again - to my disgust ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

How to Bring Food into Your Home SAFELY in the age of COVID-19

A video about safe grocery shopping and takeout.

Preserving life is a Jewish value. The Hebrew for that value is pikuakh nefesh (peh-KOO-akh NEH-fesh.)

Human beings cannot live without eating, but right now we need to be vigilant about the coronavirus, a disease that is highly contagious and for which there is as yet no treatment or cure.

This medical doctor offers training on how to safely handle groceries, and how to handle groceries you are taking to someone else.

May all of you reading this be safe and well.

Sheltering in Place, Feeling Lonely?

Image: Person sitting on a windowsill, looking out. (Pexels / Pixabay)

We are living through an unprecedented time. A pandemic is traveling around the globe, a very contagious disease that can cause, in some, a horrible death. Many of our scientists say our best hope for survival is to try to keep the rate of infection down by sheltering at home, to keep the disease from overwhelming our medical personnel and facilities.

Know that if you are sheltering in place, you are doing a mitzvah. You are one less vector of disease out on the street. You are saving lives.

If you are out and about because you are an “essential worker” (medical, infrastructure, law enforcement, first responder, etc.) you are also doing a mitzvah. You are literally saving lives and keeping the lights on. God bless you.

If you are out and about because someone needs groceries, or assistance, you are doing a mitzvah, as well. Just be sure that you do everything in your power to prevent infecting others and to keep yourself healthy.

Staying home – or going only to do essential work – can be boring. Most of us human beings have an inborn desire to be out and doing, to be social. However, if we are not extremely aggressive about distancing ourselves from others right now, we will endanger ourselves, our families, and countless others. So what are we social creatures to do?

  1. Use the phone and video to connect with family and friends. I talk every day to my sons and their partners, and to my grandson. It breaks my heart not to see and touch them, but having some contact keeps it bearable. You may even want to set aside a time when you always talk – routine can be very comforting. Unless you really need to talk about something difficult, avoid arguments. Focus on sharing love.
  2. Use social media wisely. Use social media to connect with friends, and to learn about online events and resources that will sustain you. Do not repeat rumors, speculate, or seek out conspiracy theories, even for “fun.”
  3. Learn and/or pray and/or play with others online. Look for learning opportunities, prayer opportunities, and play opportunities online. I will list a few I know about in my next post.
  4. Revive the art of letter writing. You can email someone without any physical contact at all. You can write a letter to a friend — there is something special about a card or a handwritten letter. If someone in your circle dies, you can write the mourners with your memories of that person.
  5. If you know someone at home with children right now, contact them and ask if you can help via video, reading a story aloud or doing a “show and tell.” If they say “no, thank you” respect that, but it might be a real gift to a parent trying to work from home while juggling children as well. Teens don’t want someone to “read them a story” but they may still enjoy a chance for an audience that isn’t parental. With them, listening is the most important thing: they need adults to listen to how this situation feels to them.
  6. If you have a skill that might entertain others, share it! You can do that by making a YouTube video, or a tutorial posted to Facebook, or via a video chat.
  7. Reconnect: what about using social media to reach out to old high school classmates, friends from some previous time, to touch base?
  8. Exercise. I find that when I’m feeling irritable and lonely, working up a good sweat can lift my spirits. What you do exactly will depend on your ability and your fitness, but be creative. Also there are some great resources online for free exercise videos, etc.
  9. Take political action: Write or call your elected officials and tell them what you think of the job they are doing right now.
  10. Take social justice action: Donate or raise funds for local organizations that care for people in need. The income gap in our economy means that this is a time of severe injustices: homelessness was bad before, but now it puts people at high risk for COVID-19. Hunger was bad before, but now it weakens the immune systems of young and old alike. If you have any extra funds, share what you can. If you don’t have extra funds, you can still help by “signal boosting” on social media – share opportunities for others to do good.

If you have other ideas about dealing with loneliness, I hope you will share them in the comments.

While We are Home, Things We Can Do to Help

Image: Cat stares at a door, wanting out. (Krystyna Kaleniewicz / Pixabay)

I’m 65, with significant risk factors relative to COVID-19. My wife is 71, and has even more risk factors. We are doing our best to isolate as completely as we can. I am aware that I am a happier person when I feel useful, which is why I’m teaching more free classes. (See Growing Jewishly in a Challenging Year: Options for Study Online.)

Today the SF Bay Area county health departments asked everyone to shelter in place at home for three weeks beginning midnight on March 17 (tonight.)

Isolating is not a selfish or cowardly act. We are saving lives by staying home, washing hands, not touching our faces, not overloading the hospitals, and doing all the things the health professionals say. The example of Italy should be all the warning we require as we try to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic.

Here are some ideas for ways to spend our time and improve our lives and the lives of others while we are doing our part to flatten the curve:

  • Continue being careful at home – when were your doorknob and doorbell last cleaned with disinfectant?
  • Go through they rolodex or the directory on my phone – who do I know who may be feeling very lonely and scared? Give them a call and listen more than talk. Listening is helping right now. Reach out via email, if phones aren’t the best option.
  • On social media, I watch who spreads reliable news, and who spreads titillating rumors. I follow the reliable news spreaders, and unfollow the rumor mongers. I refuse to let their garbage work on my head.
  • Now is a great time to revive our spiritual practices, or to develop one: meditate, or pray, or exercise with spiritual intent.
  • Now is a great time to learn! Take an online class, use software to learn a foreign language, read, read, read! YouTube and other online resources can have you exchanging greetings in Hebrew in no time.
  • Public libraries often offer access to e-books.
  • Eat as healthfully as we can.
  • Get enough sleep! Sleep boosts our immune systems, and too many people are on a sleep deficit.
  • Exercise is important. Stretch, lift weights (books?), do a little cardio. I do 20 minutes of exercise every day. If you are in an apartment, call or leave a note to the people downstairs asking when the best time for you to make noise.
  • Tzedakah: for those of us financially secure enough to do so, this is a great time to give to charities that care for people with food or housing insecurity.
  • Do you have fantasies about writing a book? This is a great time to keep a diary: we are living through history.
  • We need to care for our pets. Appreciate their company. It isn’t a great time for cats or dogs to run around outside, though: if they get lost, we cannot go look for them.
  • Passover is coming! We each need to prepare according to our observance and our situation. (See Passover Prep: Begin in Egypt.) (More about Passover in a future post.)
  • Be kind to other members of our households. This is a stressful time, and it’s easy to get cranky. It’s a good time to practice appreciation and to let criticism go.
  • Find a synagogue that streams services online. Start with your local community but I will see about posting a list of streaming services in a later post.
  • Count our blessings, beginning with life and breath.
  • Be aware that there are some who are in difficult situations, with unpleasant or abusive housemates. Hold them in our hearts.

Ideas for those home with children:

  • Make and decorate cards and send them to loved ones (or save for later delivery.) Index cards or folded printer paper make great cards. “Junk mail” can make collages.
  • Reading to kids and letting them read to us – and to each other! – is a wonderful activity.
  • Beware too much scary news on TV.
  • Make puppets out of old socks, and rehearse a show for the adults to watch when they take a break from home-work!
  • Put music on – everyone dance!
  • This is a great opportunity to teach age-appropriate household skills to kids. Even little ones can “dust” with a cloth.
  • Set up phone and video chats for the kids with their friends and with family they can’t visit right now.
  • For older kids, this might be a great time to learn a craft. YouTube has lots of great videos, and both knitting and crochet can be learned with any string, if you have needles or a hook.
  • Use YouTube to learn Jewish songs, and songs from your family’s heritage.

Growing Jewishly in a Challenging Year: Options for Study Online

Image: A person sits alone with their laptop. (Image by 8212733 from Pixabay)

Are you trying to figure out what to do with yourself as you sit at home hoping to avoid exposure to COVID-19, or after exposure, in isolation? Why not invest some of your time and attention in Jewish growth? Coffee Shop Rabbi is offering some options, some FREE and one, through HAMAQOM | The Place, which has a fee attached.

I use the Zoom platform for teaching, so you can attend via a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

TORAH STUDYEvery Saturday morning at 9 am in a Zoom Room online, I’ll lead a Torah study session on the weekly Torah portion. Invitations to the class will be sent out on Friday before 5pm Pacific Time; registrations that arrive after then will get an invitation for the following week. This class is FREE, but you do have to register. First class meeting will be tomorrow, March 14, but you can join at any point.

TEHILLIM (Psalms)Thursday evenings, at 7pm Pacific Time. In times of trouble, the Jewish people have traditionally turned to the book of Psalms to express the full gamut of human emotion. We are going to explore the Psalms together. Bring whatever copy you have at home, and I will be working from several sources, including the new translation and commentary from Rabbi Richard N. Levy, z”l, and Robert Alter’s translation. This class is also FREE. First class meeting will be March 19.

I will teach in English, and will assume that students do not speak or read Hebrew. Absolute beginners are especially welcome.

To enroll in either free class, send an email to happy dot adar at gmail dot com with:

  • your real name (first and last please)
  • your email address
  • which class you would like to take
  • or “BOTH” if you would like to receive invitations for both.

You will receive an acknowledgement of your enrollment, and will be added to my list for a Zoom invitation.


Introduction to the Jewish Experience, Spring Term. Sunday afternoons, 3:30 – 5 pm, Pacific Time. In this 8 week series, we will explore the things that Jews worldwide have in common, and those things that are different about various Jewish communities: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi, American, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc. While there are other parts to the IJX series, this class stands on its own. To enroll, go to the class page on the HAMAQOM | The Place website. Fees are on a sliding scale and are listed with the class description. The first class will be Sunday, March 22.