Here’s what my dream Pesach looked like a few weeks ago: a big house in Florida with lots of bedrooms and its own private pool.
Here’s what my Pesach was supposed to look like: a medium-sized, crowded house with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, lots of cousins, and not enough bedroom space.
“Maaaa,” I whined at least twenty times, as we prepared for Purim. “Why can’t we go away for Pesach?”
“Rena,” she explained at least twenty times. “We are going away. We are going to Aunt Malky’s house, like we do every year.”
But she knew that’s not what I meant. My best friend Chani was heading to Florida for the entire Yom Tov, and I wanted to go too. It didn’t help that Chani showed me photos of every room of the house her family had rented. She was busy shopping for light, summery dresses, while my mother told me I didn’t have to buy much until after Yom Tov because the weather would probably be a little breezy in Toronto, where Aunt Malky lives.
It wasn’t fair.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Aunt Malky and Uncle Moish. I love my grandparents, and my Aunt Baila and Uncle Yaakov, and all my cousins. But I hate the long drive out to Toronto in a car stuffed with luggage and matzah (that’s our contribution for Yom Tov), and I hate having to sleep in a sleeping bag next to four cousins, and I hate that I have no personal space for more than a week.
So, it’s fair to say that I was dreading Pesach for the last few weeks.
Until things got even worse.
Suddenly, we were going nowhere – not even school.
Suddenly, we had no Pesach plans at all.
And suddenly, I longed to spend Yom Tov squashed into Aunt Malky’s house, sleeping bags and all, with my aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins.
What would Pesach be like without Aunt Baila’s famous lokshen? What would the Seder be like without Zaidy’s dramatic narrative? How would we end the Seder without Uncle Moish’s Chad Gadya theatrics? And how would I manage without my cousins to schmooze with until the wee hours of the morning?
“How will I manage?” echoed my mother, as she scanned the list of necessities Aunt Malky had texted her.
But manage she did. Our house looked like a warehouse of paper goods, Pesach ingredients, and small kitchen utensils. Ma said it was her “arsenal.”
Life as we knew it had upended, and chances are that you can relate, so you don’t need me to tell you how strange it felt. How strange it still feels.
We aren’t the kind of family that makes color-coded schedules of what to do when. We kind of “wing-it,” but I say “kind of” because our house is pretty scheduled to begin with. My siblings and I don’t need a chart to let us know that we need to help clean the house for Pesach, and that’s just what I was doing when I pulled a lone mishloach manos from the crevices of our pantry.
“Hope Your Purim is Wild!” our family’s sticker proclaimed. There we were, on that tiny photo, smiling crazily in our animal onesies.
I remembered putting those stickers on the small packages, all the while complaining to my mother about why she wouldn’t even think about taking us to Florida for Pesach.
Now I sit here looking at that sticker, because I can’t bear to throw it away.
I know that there is no question that Hashem will help us celebrate many, many more Purims in our funny costumes, amid lots of merriment. That there is no question that Hashem is with us every moment, as we plan for Pesach, and watch our world come to a halt, as we replan and rethink and redo.
But as we Facetime with my grandparents to make sure they are ok, as we open our Tehillim to daven for those who need a refuah shelaima, and, yes, as we make peace with the fact that we will be working very hard to prepare for this Yom Tov that we will celebrate on our own, I can’t help thinking how this has changed me. And maybe that’s a good thing.
Because you want to know what my dream Pesach looks like now?
My grandparents safe and healthy in their home, Aunt Malky and Uncle Moishy and Aunt Baila and Uncle Yaakov and all their kids in their homes.
My father and mother at the head of the table in our modest home, with all us kids surrounding them, basking in the peace of Yom Tov.
Right now, my biggest dream is that we, and all of Klal Yisrael, stay safe and healthy, ready to greet Mashiach when he arrives on the heels of all this chaos.
Will I remember all this once the storm has passed, when – I hope – regular life resumes?
It’s hard to think past this moment, so I don’t know.
For now, I will just appreciate these moments as they pop up – like this tiny sticker – and breathe them in and appreciate the simple gifts of life right here in this small house.