Family & Education

Pesach 2020: The Howies are flying solo

Five children, and a coronavirus lockdown - Josh Howie and family have no hope of invitations for this year's Seders


You’ve got to admit, Pesach is a pain. Obviously, we love what it stands for, the themes, the story, its import to the Jewish people. But, boy, what a palaver! There’s just so much preparation, so much to organise, to stress about. Personally, Yom Kippur’s more my speed. Do nothing. Eat nothing. Brood. That’s a holiday I can get behind. That’s a Thursday for me.

Over the years though, my wife and I have developed a fail-safe coping strategy. As the ensuing Passover is heralded by the construction of walls of matzah on the supermarket shelves, we anxiously hunker down over our address books asking the question of the wise child: ‘‘Who can we con to invite us this year?’’

It used to be a lot easier. As a young couple we were a delightful addition. Charming, respectful, meagre appetites. Just stick a couple of fold-out chairs at the end of the table and you’d hardly notice us. You don’t have to clean away the plates, we don’t have to source a shankbone, everyone’s a winner. Unfortunately, procreation made the invites less forthcoming. Procreation five times shut the faucet firmly off. We are Pesach non grata.

I get it. Hosting an extra seven mouths, five of those being shouty mouths under ten, is a big ask. Our usual victims have become savvy to our tricks. We pushed our luck with Rabbi Salamon too many times, until he outwitted us by retiring. At the school gates, fellow parents track my innocent approach from the corner of their eyes. Before I can open my mouth they scream: “We’re going to our parents!” This time of year, even the local Chabad guy crosses the road when he spots me. I plead after his rapidly retreating form, “Doesn’t the Talmud say that welcoming guests is greater than greeting God?”

And now, this virus. Finally, we have no choice. My plan of asking our gentile neighbours to host a Seder meal under the guise of multicultural exploration shall have to wait. In 5780, the Howies are flying solo. And it ain’t going to be pretty. Even if I do wangle enough ingredients to make the maror and charoset, my culinary skills are such you wouldn’t be able to tell which is which. No amount of rabbinical proclamations about Zoom and Kosher for Passover will entail us being able to do this properly.

Unless they state it’s OK just to hide the afikoman in the DVD player and when the kids find it, bung on The Prince of Egypt, this is the year of making do.

First things first; chucking out the chametz. Wait, you want me to throw away our pasta? Do you know how much trouble it took to get this, how many shops I had to visit? And I don’t even like fusilli! Why don’t I just burn all our toilet paper while we’re at it?

I did manage to get the matzah though. Strangely, as entire aisles were stripped bare, panicky shoppers wondering how many days in a row their kids wouldn’t mind eating just mackerel, mountains of matzah remained untouched. The madness of crowds declaring loudly: “Things aren’t that bad.”

If you can’t get eggs, are you allowed to substitute Easter eggs? Or would the confused symbolism cause the universe to explode? Ditto the only wine left in the supermarket being mulled wine. I’d like to hear that rabbinic declaration. The one thing I do have an ample supply of is salt-water. Being stuck inside the past few weeks with five kids and no garden, I’ve shed enough tears to supply Hendon.

But they’re who this is all really for, right? The core of Pesach is about educating our children. Just what we need right now, yet more home-schooling! Time to practise my new teaching skills where we utilise what’s going on in the world today, in order to teach them about the past. Erm, perhaps the less talk of plagues the better. And ‘‘Let my people go. To the park once a day for exercise,’’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. This night we celebrate escape from the Corbynites?

Actually, it might be best if I hand over the Haggadah to the children. This is one of the benefits of sending your kids to a Jewish school, they’ve had this all shoved down their throats for years. It’d take more than Covid-19 to stop them lording their superior Jewish knowledge over us. In fact, they’ve already divvied up all the roles among themselves; the simple child, the wicked child, the child who does not know how to ask, another simple child, and the middle child who whines about being forgotten. However it all turns out, one thing’s certain. It’s going to be a night(s) to remember.

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