A Passover to remember: Israelis across the country found a way to be together on the seder night despite social distancing, singing the traditional “Ma Nishtana” together in what resulted in a truly magnificent experience.
By Atara Beck, United with Israel
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the Passover experience completely.
Each year, Jews in Israel and around the world look forward to spending the seder night with extended family and friends. Grandparents especially take delight, listening to their offspring recite the Ma Nishtana – the Four Questions – and reading the Haggadah together.
The Haggadah is a book that includes the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the many miracles that God performed for the Jewish People, including leading them through the desert to the Land of Israel. It also contains the Hallel prayer of praise to the Almighty, which is recited largely in song. Often, family members and friends share new tunes as well as literary insights into the words of the Haggadah.
Knowing well in advance that this year, due to efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the experience would be different, Israelis found a way to alleviate the loneliness that many would inevitably experience, particularly those who live on their own. Indeed, Orthodox families refrain from using electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov, which prevented them from using Zoom to connect the generations in an online seder.
So throughout the country, at exactly 8:30 p.m., which is the time when most people would have reached the part in the Haggadah where the Four Questions are asked, almost everyone – religiously observant and non-observant – went outside to their yards or balconies to recite the Ma Nishtana aloud, in unison.
The effort resulted in a Ma Nishtana that was incredibly beautiful and moving. Instead of experiencing a devastating feeling of aloneness on a night meant to share with beloved family and friends, the People of Israel felt as together as ever – they were truly united.
‘What a Special Country’
“Challenges never fail to bring out the best in us Israelis,” Raanana resident Linda Olmert told United with Israel. “Every resident of my street was outside at 20:30 seder night, singing Ma Nishtana. Most were not out there for themselves, but were singing to pierce the darkness and isolation of everyone else.
“After the singing,” Olmert continued, “the night filled with people, reluctant to end the moment, yelling, ‘Chag Sameach‘ [Happy Holiday], and you could hear the smiles in their voices.”
“What a special country we live in,” said Margaret Abrams, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh. “Although I had no children in my home this year, it was an amazing experience hearing the children in the neighborhood singing the Ma Nishtana. Everybody was trying to make others feel better and connected with each other during these difficult times.”
In some cities, people were so moved that they added the song “Am Yisrael Chai” – the People of Israel Live Forever” – while singing outdoors. It was truly a seder night to remember.
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