Celebrating Passover

It’s the night before the night before Passover – which means my house is in the storm before the calm. We pack up our regular pots, pans, plates, and take out separate sets from cupboards and boxes. We put away food that has ‘leaven’ within it and fill the cupboards and fridge with fresh food. Even with a smaller family this year, it’s a lot of food!

Twelve months ago, I was on a plane back from Florida. I had been at the wedding of a close friend’s daughter. Throughout the week of the wedding, we could feel the world closing in around us, as people cancelled, the rules changed, and the number of guests contracted. Arriving back in England, there seemed to be no rules at all about what to do, no checks, no restrictions. I rang a colleague and was told that the office was closed. That night was the night of the first lockdown.

On Passover we have a family meal, which is also a religious service. We tell the story of the going out from Egypt. Tradition tells us that you should tell the story ‘as if we ourselves were slaves in Egypt’. We recreate symbols like bitterness, salt tears, the mortar in the bricks; and we eat the bread of poverty and affliction.  We also though drink 4 cups of wine, recline on cushions like free people, and sing psalms of rejoicing and freedom. We both recollect the slavery AND the Freedom.

This year, as last year, my family will be depleted through Covid restrictions. My mother at least is in our bubble now, so won’t be on Zoom. It’s almost impossible to believe that it’s 12 months that we’ve more or less been at home. Our horizons have narrowed, our walks may have got longer, but our worlds have shrunk. A trip to Sainsbury’s feels like a liberation event. I drove to town the other day and brand new buildings have gone up in the time we have been in lockdown.

For many people this has felt like a year of imprisonment or slavery. We have been lucky – healthy (or at least Covid-free), earning well, nice house with lots of space and garden, and even reasonable broadband most of the time. But I think for many of us the experience of lockdown has created a sense of isolation, of narrowness, and definitely of missed opportunities. I’ve watched my children miss out on years of social life, although they have grown up in other ways. I’ve watched them campaign on Travellers’ rights, and speak out on anti-semitism.  I’ve watched them support their friends and help to build communities. They’ve made sourdough and cooked meals for us and supported us while we worked crazy hours this year.

This brings me to what I wanted to end with. In the Passover story, we talk about the Exodus from Egypt, but we also talk about redemption. We move from slavery to freedom. It’s not just ‘freedom from’ and escape, but freedom ‘to’. We are freed to use that liberty for good, in service of the world.

During the past year we have seen huge sacrifices and terrible suffering, but also amazing achievements from individuals and communities. We’ve seen a rise in volunteering, and neighbourliness.  We’ve learned to think about those who live alone a lot more, and about those who can’t get to a shop, and those who don’t have access to the internet. We’ve learned more about our colleagues’ families and shared their griefs and their disappointments. We’ve become more human and tolerant about things like childcare, support for relatives, the need for flexibility, and more able to ignore or enjoy the cats and dogs as they walk across the screen.

If we all just leave lockdown and return to our old ways of doing things, then we will certainly feel more free. But we can do more than this. If we leave lockdown and take with us the lessons of the last year; walk a bit more, think about others a bit more,  and are more appreciative of other people and the outside world, then maybe the last year will feel like less of a wasted year where we were unable to do so many of the things we had planned for.

As the Spring comes, and the Passover, Easter and Ramadan season come upon us, it feels like a time of new beginnings. If we can bring the good bits from this year with us as well as the bad, then I truly hope that we will be able to create a better world around us.

Wishing you all a good break, however you celebrate it.

Helen Lewis

Director of Pathway Integration