Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The weeks after Purim are usually filled with anticipation and planning. The cleaning begins, whether you take part in a full spring cleaning of your home or a thorough cleaning of the chametz alone. Excitement builds as kids make haggadahs in school, teachers think of divrei Torah to fill your Seder table and your favorite Pesach treats line the shelves of local stores.  What you hear most around town, in stores and on Shabbos get-togethers, is the question on everyone’s minds and lips, “What are your plans for Pesach?” People have many answers, including going away to family, hosting family, renting a house somewhere (usually Florida) or going to a Pesach program.  

This year, though, there is no question to ask. As the RCBC and many other rabbinical organizations have enforced social distancing, which is vital to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves celebrating Pesach in our homes with only our immediate family. A small Seder can, and I’m sure will, be wonderful, but it is different than what many of us expect from Pesach. While you will hear many people exalt the intimate family Seder, it doesn’t take away the fact that the change can be emotionally hard. Even for those people who always have an immediate family Seder, this is still a year of differences as there is no break in the home time —no shul, no playdates and no company for other meals. And let’s not forget that the first days are a three-day Yom Tov!

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Preparing for a successful different Pesach, and staying happy while doing so, can be accomplished. With these few steps, you can make a different situation into a great one.

Communicate: Start by talking to the people in your immediate family about what will be different and how they feel about it. By opening up the conversation, you are giving everyone the chance to express disappointment, frustration or any other uncomfortable feelings they are experiencing. This can help people process and deal with their emotions within the safety of their family. Don’t be surprised if you hear someone in the family say that they are excited for this new challenge. This can bring a new perspective for all and can lead to a positive focus for the upcoming days. If no one brings up the positive aspects, such as the ability to use a small Seder to focus on each individual at the table or the chance to win that game of Monopoly, communicate those positive aspects to others. They will take their cues from you and be able to shift their concerns into hopes.

Be Creative: Your usual manner of running or participating in your Seder may not work in this smaller setting. Your customary Chol Hamoed trip will not be available for you to attend. Think of out of the box ways to make your Seder go more smoothly. This may include going at a slower or faster pace, going online to get masks for the eser makos (ten plagues) or buying a new Haggadah for some fresh insights on the Seder.  

There can be a friendly competition for the best d’var Torah at the Seder, with an actual award to win. Get creative with Chol Hamoed days and remember that the goal of Chol Hamoed trips is to promote family togetherness and make memories. Save your soda bottles from Yom Tov and set up backyard bowling competitions or assemble baskets of food ingredients and play a game of “Chopped: Pesach Edition.” Look online for “rainy day” ideas, which will translate into “being in the house” ideas—perfect for this Chol Hamoed.

Get Everyone Involved: Whether the “everyone” is you and your spouse or it includes your children, everyone is in the house before, during and after Pesach. While there’s work and school, there are more helping hours in the day since there’s no commute and school will end a few days before Pesach. 

Make a list of all the things that need to be done before Pesach and let people pick one thing a day to do.  The list can include cleaning a car, looking through pockets in the coat closet and vacuuming the rugs. It can also include planning a Chol Hamoed activity, finding divrei Torah for the Seder and sending messages to the family members you will be missing. On Yom Tov, spend time asking your family member(s) about their favorite Pesach memories. Each person can be given a chance to pick the family activity (which game to play or which direction to go in for the family walk) and be in charge of the afternoon snack. Getting everyone involved will help each person feel in control of their own situation and promote happiness. 

Be Prepared and Proactive: By acknowledging that the days can get long without shul to go to and outings to go on, think now about what you want to do and how you will fill your time with the family. Talk to your family about a new game or two and buy them before Yom Tov.  As you are cleaning for Pesach, look around and see if you have any puzzles or projects that have been left untouched but could be brought out again. Listen to a few shiurim for inspiration going into the holiday that you can share with the rest of your family. All of this preparation will help you be calmer.

Yes, this year will be different, but different can be good; it can be very good. How this Pesach will be different from all other Pesachs is up to you. 


Tamar Sheffey, LCSW, is the director of guidance at Yeshiva University High School for Boys.  She maintains a private practice in Teaneck. Tamar can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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