A few weeks ago, an episode of Pointless aired, and one of the questions asked contestants to come up with words ending ‘-ough’. The pointless answer, the most unusual word anyone could think of, was ‘furlough’. I have a sneaking suspicion that that episode was filmed before COVID.

In about February 2020, I had a hospital appointment, and I remember being asked on my way in whether I’d returned within the last 14 days from Hubei Province or certain towns in northern Italy. Remember when COVID was just some little regional problem? Bless.

Student Rabbi Gabriel Webber, leading the York seder 2019

We were all different people before this pandemic. In April 2020, I wrote an article for Liberal
Judaism calling for us to celebrate a Pesach Sheini, a second Pesach, as soon as lockdown was over. “It might be late summer or autumn or even winter,” I said, “but when we’re free to gather in person, we’ll get the Haggadot out of the cupboard, eat matzah and charoset as a community, and catch up on what we missed in the spring.”

Since then, I’ve been dreading and dreading and dreading having to write this. But I can’t put it off any longer. Here it is: a ‘[student] rabbi’s word’ conceding that, not only did we fail to gather for Pesach during 2020 – even at the end of 2020 – we’re also going to fail to gather for Pesach 2021.

In fact, in many ways we’ve been living out the story of our Israelite ancestors: sheltering inside our homes while the angel of death passes outside; restricted from our religious life; unable to enjoy normal social and leisure activities; occasional shortages of supplies, both basic and luxurious; waiting for a miracle.

The miracle came for our ancestors and it’s come for us. The fastest-developed vaccine in history.

The best we can do is look to that inspiring line from the Haggadah: “The story of the Exodus begins in degradation and ends in glory.” Back in March 2020, we might have been hopeful that it would all be over in a couple of months, but things rapidly became bleaker and bleaker. Now, finally, we genuinely do see a way out. This isn’t the mindless optimism of our past selves, who had no idea what an R-number was and who’d never heard of AstraZeneca (or the word ‘furlough’). We’ve come on a journey, we’ve grown, and now, informed, sensible, well-travelled on our journey if not on our holidays, we genuinely do see light at the end of the tunnel. We see signs and wonders in the sky.

We will meet again.

Chag sameach!


Join us for YLJC Pesach 2021 online on the third night Monday 29 March 2021. To register please email, chair@jewsinyork.org.uk