Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Why is this night different from any other night?

This evening Jewish families around the world will be celebrating the start of Pesach (Passover) with a special service and meal called the Seder. It is traditional to gather with friends and family for the Seder meal - the more the merrier. This year will be strange and very difficult for those living alone.

One of the prayers said during the Seder service begins with the line "Why is this night different from any other night?" As far as I know, never before and hopefully never again have entire communities been obliged to hold their Seder meals in isolation so this night could not be more different from any other night, ever!

During the Seder service we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It's the one about Pharoah, Moses and the ten plagues. We eat bitter herbs to represent bitter times and dip parsley in salt water to represent tears and we try to imagine how the Israelites might have felt. We may not be slaves in Egypt but this year we are certainly experiencing our own bitter times and tears.

The picture above shows the centrepiece of a traditional Seder table with the Haggadah (the special prayer book for the Seder), matzo (unlevened bread eaten for the entire eight days instead of bread), goblets of wine (we're asked to drink four each during the evening), and a plate with egg, bitter herbs, salt water and charoseth (a mix of ground nuts, wine and dried fruit to represent mortar).

Before the main meal it's traditional to have a starter of hard boiled egg in salt water to represent new beginnings. Here's hoping that it's not long before we can all experience new beginnings.

An explanation for anyone reading this in years to come: we are in lockdown because of a worldwide Coronavirus Covid-19 epidemic and it's frightening.


  1. Chag Sameach. It is indeed the strangest of times. For the first time in my life, after decades of Seder nights with a huge family gathering, there will just be two of us. As I am slightly younger, I should be asking the four questions. I hope we will add this to our traditions and look back as "that Pesach". Stay well.

    1. It's the same for me, just the two of us - even worse for those entirely on their own. In Jerusalem I hear they're going to get the children to sing Mah Nishtanah on their balconies at 8.30. That will be moving.

  2. I didn’t know any of that tradition Roz but it’s interesting. A sad time for those living alone.

  3. Peace to you and your husband as you celebrate the beginning of Passover season with your Seder. At least you'll know that many folks like yourselves shall be enjoying the rituals and looking for the hope in the near future. No matter what, through the years there's been hardship and tough times, and yet the service and meal carry on. My heart goes out to you and your family and friends (however spread afar). Health and blessings.

  4. I’m a bit late here, Ros. I hope your Seder evening was beautiful even within the confines of this difficult time. Wishing you peaceful, healthy and blessed passover period.


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