This is not a time for productivity. Not yet

Tonight I want to pass on some words from Rabbi Susan P. Fendrick.  These are for everybody who needs them, and especially for women of any age, and especially for millennials of any gender, and especially for Jewish educators and cantors  and rabbis:

You are allowed to have a shvach seder.

And by shvach, I mean the Yiddish word for mediocre, underwhelming, unremarkable, or even kind of pathetic.

You do not need to set up a multi-media, multi-layered presentation on Zoom. You do not need to cook 17 dishes that remind you of all the family members you are not gathering with. You do not need to do all the cool things that people are suggesting for small seders. You do not need to go out on your mirpeset/porch at 11 pm and sing Chad Gadya with your neighbors. You do not need to compile an “in these times”-themed haggadah or seder supplement.

You are living through an international pandemic. For all of the support you have, for all of the jokes people are making, for all of the new Torah that is being learned…you are experiencing a collective trauma as an individual, within the daled amot – the delimited space – of your own home and your own life. You may be managing others’ experience of that trauma. You are dealing with challenges you have never faced before. You may feel scared, angry, depressed, or lost.

If you want to and can do any of the above for a maximalist seder night, great. But if you don’t want to and/or can’t, it is totally fine to cook a modest meal, throw together a seder plate at the last minute, get up to make salt water when it’s time for karpas because you forgot to do it before, make decisions on the fly…

You do not need to make up for the seder you are not having, or the seder you wish you could have. Do this year’s seder(s) however that works for you this year.

This is important not just for seder. You are living through a crisis.  You and your family and everybody around you are experiencing trauma and grief  (whether it feels like grief or not, there are so many losses right now, from loss of playdates to loss of control to loss of freedom of movement to loss of life). This is not a time to worry about “productivity” or “academic success” or even necessarily “a socially distant meaningful, memorable Passover.”   Not yet.  As Professor Aisha Ahmad writes,

…ignore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media right now. It is OK that you keep waking up at 3 a.m. It is OK that you forgot to eat lunch and cannot do a Zoom yoga class. … Know that you are not failing.  

(That means you too, my clergy colleagues!)

Right now is the time to ensure your physical safety, strengthen your community safety networks, and slowly get used to changed circumstances. (Professor Ahmad again.)  Turn off the news. Did I say that loudly enough? Turn off the news. Go outside and garden if you have access to land. Turn off the news. Get off Facebook.  Put on your mask and go outside and pull weeds, find flowers, watch the clouds, find the moon as it approaches full.  

Stop worrying about what people with power and money are doing; you can’t do anything about them right now. Truth: Crooks and monarchs and business tycoons have always done what they are doing now.   We have survived them, like we survived Pharaoh.   200 years ago we would have had no idea what they were doing anyway, so pretend you have no idea and take care of what is in your grasp:  Check on someone who has no one.  Keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Pay attention to the people who speak truth and compassion.  Offer a listening ear — you’ll both feel better.  And by all means, have a shvach seder. 

May you have a zissen Pesach/a sweet Passover, whatever it is like.  

This year we are enslaved, next year let us be freer people.  

This year we are here … and here …and here…  Next year in the same room!


P.S.  What I have said here, and have been saying for days, is strongly shaped by Professor Aisha Ahmad’s essay “Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure.”  She writes:  

I am just a human, struggling like everyone else to adjust to the pandemic. However, I have worked and lived under conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster in many places around the world. I have experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement.

So I listen to her.  And I hope you will listen too.