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What story will you be telling at the Seder table?

By Sara Neidle
25 March 2021

By Sara Neidle

It has been a year since we went into the first lockdown. It has been a year since I returned from visiting my brother and his family in Toronto. It will be yet another year where I will be sitting around the Seder table without my extended family.

Pesach (or Passover) commences this Saturday night. It is typically a time where you spend time with all your family, tell stories, eat lots of food (like with many Jewish festivals) and have a Seder. Every year, we turn our lives upside down for eight days to commemorate the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. We clean our homes from top to bottom, changeover our cutlery and crockery, eat different food and do unusual customs. This year, as it starts straight after the Jewish sabbath, you need to be ready for Pesach by Friday morning. Not only that, to make things even more complicated we put the clocks forward for British Summer Time. As the first two day are yom tov, holy days (whereby it is forbidden to operate mechanical devices.) for those who keep, will be unable to change their clocks. This very rarely happens, and the last time was in 1994.

Pesach is a about story telling. During the Seder we retell the story of Exodus, where the children of Israel left Egypt for freedom. We relive the story of our ancestors where we read the Haggadah (narrative), a compilation of biblical passages, psalms and songs, at the Seder. We have several customs during the Seder that reminds us of our ancestors in Egypt. This story has been passed down from generation to generation to generation. I remember as a little girl sitting around the Seder table with my family, grandparents and great grandma, aunts and uncles and cousins. There would be discussions, arguments, laughter, and joy, and it was very special. Now, I am sitting around my Seder table with my family. 

Pesach is also a time where we ask questions. During the Seder, the youngest child recites the Ma Nishtana, ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’. During the Seder we ask many questions – it is a time of discussion, contemplation and understanding. There are no right or wrong questions. Being able to ask questions in a well-structured and thought-out way can help us navigate what can feel like difficult and unfamiliar territory. If there is any year where we will ask lots of difficult questions, it will be this year.

The pandemic has turned our lives upside down. It saddens me that we have another festival where we will not be around the Seder table with my family and friends. Even so, this year, we all have a powerful story to tell. Everyone should have an opportunity to speak up and talk about their experience over the past year. It may be one of joy, one of heartache or one of truth.

So, here’s my story. The past year has felt like a dream. When we first went into lockdown, I was on maternity leave. My son was only four months at the time, and my little girl just over two years. Just before lockdown we made a big decision to visit my brother and his family in Toronto, Canada. We had booked this prior to knowing about covid-19, and we made a last minute to decision to go. I should say this was a week before lockdown in the UK. Although it was a whirlwind of emotions, and we even ended up coming back after five days as Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he was going to be closing the borders, I was so pleased we ended up visiting. That is something I will never regret however tough it was at the time. It felt like we were in a film, and embracing my brother, not knowing when I will next see him was very difficult.

Once we returned, we went straight into lockdown. Like for many it was a very challenging and stressful time. Over this time, we lost one family member to covid, my great uncle passed away and several friends parents passed away. It hard not being able to give them a hug, and just be there for them. Everyone had their challenges but having two little ones during lockdown was not easy at all. It was not the maternity leave I was expecting. But it was not all bad, and if I am being truthful, I loved every minute. Being able to see my little ones grow up was beautiful. My daughter was my little helper, and over that time we did some great activities together. It made me a better mum and that time we spent together was invaluable. This will never be taken away from me. In the latter stages, I returned to work and it was a difficult transition as it felt like I was starting a new job all over again. It came with it challenges but knowing that I could see my family in the mornings and for bedtime made it that much easier.

So, what story will you be telling at the Seder table? Will it be one of sadness, joy, or truth. Whatever story you decide, remember it will be your story that should be heard and listened.