My First Seder: Finding Redemption and Roots Amid the Pandemic
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself in Jerusalem sitting at my first Passover seder. Although this has been a period of unprecedented disruption and difficulty around the globe, I have had the good fortune of spending this time in Israel connecting with my Jewish roots, and growing personally and professionally through my time as a Teaching Fellow.
Growing up in Kansas City in a religiously mixed household, I had little connection with my Jewish heritage, even though my father was raised in a religious Jewish home. Sadly, my father passed away about a decade ago, but since he was one of 14 siblings, I was aware that I had a large Jewish family, including more than 50 first cousins.
Through a terrific Birthright Israel trip I took in college, I started to gain a greater sense of my Jewish identity, both culturally and communally. Then, a few months before graduating from the University of Missouri — Kansas City in May 2020, I had decided to return to Israel for a year through Masa Israel Journey, an organization founded by the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel, to learn more about myself and have other opportunities for growth before entering the workforce.
Right around that time, the pandemic struck — throwing the world into disarray. But fortunately, with the help of Masa, I was still able to get to Israel and commence the program after a mandatory two-week quarantine. As a Teaching Fellow, I instruct Israeli youth in English at the Herzog Rehovot School in the metropolitan Tel Aviv area. Connecting with Israel’s younger generation has been an excellent way to integrate myself into the country.
Despite all of the restrictions of the pandemic, my time in Israel has still been an amazing experience, and I’d highly recommend it to others. I have found it so valuable to take some time for myself after college to continue to grow, learn, and more deliberately consider what I want to do with my life. And with groups like Masa, there are so many incredible opportunities to choose from.
I’ve also enjoyed immersing myself in Israeli culture, and appreciating how much Israelis value quality family time through the traditions and religious occasions they celebrate together. I particularly felt this during a number of Shabbats I got to spend in the homes of Israelis. I was so struck and moved by how welcoming Israelis are, even during a pandemic.
This has all contributed to my ongoing process of rediscovering my Jewish roots and deepening my connection to Judaism, Jews, and Jewish culture. Celebrating my first Passover seder with a friend from the Masa program at the home of her Israeli relatives in Jerusalem was a special milestone in this journey of self-discovery (don’t worry, we’ve been vaccinated!).
We read from the Haggadah, sang the traditional songs, enjoyed the customary foods, and hid the afikomen for the children to excitedly find. We celebrated the freedom of the Jewish people from bondage, when over the past year we have faced such unparalleled restrictions. At the end of the seder, we declared, “Next year in Jerusalem!” I am grateful I was in Jerusalem right then and there, connecting with my Jewishness and Jewish family in that moment. For the next year and every year after that, I will remember this powerful first Passover seder experience.
Jacob Boresow is a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow currently living in Rehovot.