Passover, Possibilities, and the Pandemic

You might not expect a post about Passover to talk about dog bones. You might not expect it to include a tribute to the Easter Bunny.

But, then again, is anything going as expected these days? 

Before we get to the dog and the bunny, a little background is in order. Passover is often considered the foundational story of the Jewish people. Every year, Jewish families around the world gather for a special dinner — a Seder — and read the Haggadah, the prayerbook retelling the story of our exodus from slavery in Egypt. The Haggadah spells out the Passover traditions, from the four questions asked by the youngest child to the symbolism of the foods on the Seder plate. 

Our family brings a mixed religious tradition to the Seder table. I’m a Jew. My husband, Tom, is an agnostic. We raised our two daughters as Jews. While Tom has always been supportive of holding the family Seder, neither he nor the girls have jumped up and down at the opportunity to help prepare for it — and putting on a big family meal complete with all the necessary religious items does require preparation.

For example, before you even begin cooking dinner, you have to gather all the items for the Seder plate. Every item is important and symbolic: 

  • Three matzahs, the unleavened bread Jews eat at Passover, because our ancestors left Egypt in a rush – there was no time for bread to rise
  • Bitter herbs, a sign of how bitter our lives were in slavery
  • Haroset, a mixture – often made with apples, honey, wine, and nuts – that resembles the mortar the slaves used in their construction tasks for Pharoah
  • Salt water, for the tears shed
  • A green vegetable, to signify the renewal of spring
  • A roasted (or hard-boiled) egg, symbolizing the cycle of life and sacrifices made 
  • A roasted shank bone, also symbolizing the sacrifices made in ancient days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem

If the idea of pulling all that together, making a delicious meal, gathering a rowdy family around a beautiful table, and holding a religious service that would make your traditional Jewish grandmother proud makes your head ache… well, welcome to my world. 

Years ago, when the girls were little, my work schedule and their after-school schedule impaired my ability to prepare. When it came time to assemble the Seder plate, I didn’t have a bone of any kind, much less the shank bone from a lamb. So I used the closest approximation: Our dog’s Milk-Bone® went on the Seder plate. 

At this point in the post, I feel obligated to ask all the Jewish readers to forgive me: I know, I know, I know. A dog bone is sacrilegious. But when life throws unexpected challenges in our way, mothers do the best we can. 

From that year on, the sacrilegious substitute became a Harness family Passover tradition. The Milk-Bone is now a staple on our Seder plate. 

On the other side of the family, we had Easter. Tom’s parents weren’t religious, but they celebrated the secular aspects of Easter and Christmas. Easter was a special treat for the girls because Grandpa Harness — who was already in his 80s when they were born — put on bunny ears and hid eggs throughout the backyard for them to find. 

Every year, he hid those eggs in the same place. One by the stump of the old tree. One in the clothesline. One under the steps to the deck. You get the idea. 

Now, when the girls were toddlers, every year was a new adventure — they couldn’t remember where he hid those eggs. As they grew older, the mystery faded, but the joy remained. Grandpa hid the eggs, the girls found them, and then we all went inside for Grandma’s Easter dinner. 

But then, life. Grandma was stricken with Alzheimer’s and went to a nursing home. Not long after, Grandpa died at the age of 96. 

The Easter Bunny was gone. We were faced with a decision: We could sit around and mourn, or we could celebrate all the years of happy memories. In keeping with Grandpa’s personality, we opted to celebrate with a new tradition — one we carry on to this day: Every Easter Sunday, we drive out to the cemetery in Independence and pay our respects to the Easter Bunny. 

The tradition is different, but it feels right. 

Whether you celebrate Passover, Easter, or the arrival of spring, the way you celebrate may be different this year: The pandemic has wreaked havoc on traditional observances. The good news? Every tradition was brand new once. So, get creative! This could be the year you start a family tradition you’ll carry on, long after this season of our lives has passed over. 


Jan Sokoloff Harness is the author of “Look Up: Your Unexpected Guide to Good,” and was planning a book tour in 2020, but … 2020. Rather than roam, Jan stayed home in Olathe, continued working as a writer/editor, and played way too many games on her iPad. Jan and hubby Tom are lucky empty nesters; their daughters Kate and Mary both live nearby. A proud graduate of the MU School of Journalism, Jan launched her career as a reporter, talk show host, and (eventually) news director for KUDL and WHB. She left radio for PR and marketing, and founded Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC in 2002. Jan is now plotting her retirement and learning that it’s easier to center clay on a potter’s wheel if you move slowly. It is, apparently, possible to move slowly.

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