The Best We Can Do

By Yoel Gold

This past Pesach, like so many others, Zale Newman found himself making a Seder under impossible circumstances. His wife, Rochel, was in the ICU with a severe case of COVID-19. Zale had contracted the virus too, but his symptoms were mild. For the first time, he would have to make Yom Tov alone.
After much trial and error, he succeeded in cleaning the house. He mopped, dusted, changed the sheets and disposed of the chametz. He set a beautiful Seder table for one. Daylight faded to dusk.
After Minchah, Zale left his house to pay a socially distanced visit to an infected couple across the street who were distraught because they would be spending Pesach alone. He spent some time lifting their spirits, and it was dark by the time he left.
Then, going up the stairs to his house, Zale tripped, smacking his knee and head on the concrete.
He remained conscious and was able to call Hatzalah. They whisked him away to the hospital, the same one in which his wife was in isolation. He too was placed in isolation until a doctor could stitch him up. It wasn’t until 1:30 a.m. that the overburdened staff was able to attend to him.
By that time he had no way to get home; no taxi would transport a COVID-19 patient. He could get an ambulance the next afternoon for $150 or be picked up by a Bikur Cholim bus (which was running in accordance with rabbanim to deliver food to the hospital and pick up anyone stranded there, miles from home) in the morning, but until then he was stuck in the hospital—on the first night of Pesach. How would he have a Seder now?
“Could you please do me a favor?” he asked a nurse. “In the Bikur Cholim upstairs there’s supposed to be matzah, grape juice and a Haggadah in one of the cabinets. I would be very grateful if you brought them to me.”
The nurse, Omar, dutifully went to check. He returned with three siddurim, a Chumash and a bag of kosher l’Pesach snacks.
Zale weighed his options. Asking the nurse to go back to the Bikur Cholim room was not an option with the hospital staff so terribly overwhelmed during this pandemic. And he wasn’t allowed to leave his room under any circumstances for the same reason. Clearly, he was not meant to have a proper Seder. But one of the siddurim had the Haggadah reading for Shabbos Hagadol as well as Hallel, and he also had the snacks. Thinking of the stories he’d heard of concentration camp inmates creating their own Pesach “Seders” out of potato peels and sugar water, he called out “Kadeish!” and began his ersatz celebration.

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