This year, families worldwide had to learn to adapt and celebrate their Passover traditions differently than in years past. Instead of coming together for the Seder, dinner and hiding the Afikomen, traditions had to be reimagined over a Zoom call. With grocery stores ransacked for supplies, we had to get creative and think outside of the box for Seder plate substitutions.
Brother Amitai Gispan (Hebrew U, 2021) knew there would be AEPi Brothers living in Israel who would have to spend the holiday alone due to worldwide lockdowns and strict social distancing guidelines, so he mobilized to create Passover packs that were delivered across Israel to undergraduate and alumni Brothers in need. Each pack contained matzos, wine, a Passover Haggadah, two full meals and items to symbolize the Seder plate.
“I wanted Brothers to be able to organize a holiday celebration for themselves. It was important to me that these Brothers didn’t feel alone during the holiday, because COVID-19 definitely intensified this feeling in Israel. I thought making Passover packs was the most practical idea.”
His idea first came to fruition back in November when he organized a national Shabbat in Mitzpe Ramon for AEPi Brothers. Brother Gispan had heard that there were Brothers, many of whom were lone soldiers, who had nowhere to go on Shabbat. “It was painful to hear this. I was orphaned from my mom at 19 and I can’t always spend the holidays with my dad and his partner. When this happens, I need to find a place to celebrate without my nuclear family. If I didn’t want to spend this time alone, it was clear to me that no one should have to celebrate alone.” So, he went to work and hit the ground running.
After Rosh Hashanah, he started organizing a Passover Seder for all lone Brothers in Israel. Then, without much of a warning, COVID-19 started to spread and plans had to drastically and quickly change. “When the ten-person restriction was put into place, I sat down with Regional Governor and Rabbi Brian Schneider (Cornell, 1998) and Ezra Sanders (Hebrew U, 2021) to organize several separate Seder points where up to ten Brothers could celebrate together. That fell through though as the situation with COVID-19 worsened and further limitations by the Israeli government restricted people going no more than 100 meters from their residence. Eventually, even gatherings of 10 people or less were limited.” He quickly had to modify his idea or lose it to the growing pandemic. “At the same time, I was planning this Seder, I was working with Chabad on Campus at Hebrew U to arrange a delivery of matzos for each of my chapter Brothers. The Chabad Rabbi told me he was organizing Passover food boxes for families in need, and that’s when the idea of a Passover pack for Brothers came to mind. We abandoned the matzah idea to put all our efforts into the packs because we felt it was more powerful and meaningful.”
Brother Gispan didn’t have to do this alone. He had the support of his AEPi Brothers from the start. “It’s hard to mention and thank everyone who had a hand in helping bring this to life, but Rabbi Schneider was a huge asset in obtaining a budget for this project and finding me the connections in AEPi to get this done. Our chapter Scribe, Moshik Sobol (Hebrew U, 2021), did a great job advertising this opportunity on social media, as well as arranging everything that needed to be done to finish this. We couldn’t have done this without the drivers who delivered the packs.”
Before the national quarantine in Israel, Brother Gispan had to hurry to get deliveries out before people couldn’t move between neighborhoods in Jerusalem. “On Passover Eve, I had some Brothers who weren’t able to deliver packs, so I started making phone calls, sending WhatsApp messages and posting for help on Facebook. In the end, I found someone whom I didn’t personally know that was not connected to AEPi who volunteered to deliver the pack and managed to finish an hour before the quarantine order began.”
After everything came together, it was time to enjoy what he could of the holiday. “These Passover packs brought the community together by letting Brothers know the fraternity is always there for them and they are not alone. Everyone was so excited to receive their pack, so I’d love to try and organize something like this every year.” This year, Brother Gispan spent most of his Passover time on Zoom with classmates doing schoolwork and studying Torah. He was able to have a Seder with his dad, his dad’s partner and his younger sister. “My favorite part of Passover are the prayers. My father is Yemenite, so I daven in the Yemenite tradition and I really like the tunes of the Passover prayer. This year was a little different for me though. Every year, I try to walk from my home to the Western Wall, thus simulating the Holiday Pilgrimage, but could not do that this Passover.” By no means did this break in tradition jeopardize his holiday spirit.
“If you’re stuck inside right now, get your job and school assignments done. Spend your free time trying to learn new things and give your friends a call to check in on them. Take some time for yourself, but don’t forget you are not alone. AEPi and this Passover experience has taught me that when the light of your candle is put out, there are Brothers around who will light it for you again. Shabbat Shalom and, everyone, please keep yourselves safe and healthy.”