There will be more room at my family's seder table this year. We'll stretch out our legs as we retell of our ancestors' Exodus from Egypt. We'll spread out and recline like freed people as we recall our years as slaves to Pharaoh. This year, our elbows won't knock our neighbor's when we slurp our matzah-ball soup.
So, what makes this Passover different from all others? (Hint: It's not a bigger table.)
This year, the recession is keeping my family apart.
Companies being slammed by this melting economy can lay people off, cut hours, freeze spending and stop contributing to 401(k)s. But how does an economic downturn impact extended families trying to maintain a 5,000-year-old tradition? Not the nuclear units that you saw last Shabbat, but the out-of-towners who pinch your cheeks and tell you how much you look like your mother. The ones you see only this one time a year — at Passover. How do you lay off your cousins?
In my family, Passover has forever been our standing, non-negotiable gathering. It is the transgenerational, transgeographical event of the year. In my lifetime (that's 184 cups of wine), neither distance nor complicated schedule has ever affected our seder.
Traveling is never easy, but for this holiday, we sojourn. After all, our ancestors rode camels and schlepped everything they had through the desert for 40 years, so it's the least we can do. But this year, travel is just too expensive. Increasingly high oil prices won't let our gas pumps go. Airfare costs an arm and a shank bone. More than that, most of us can't take the days off from work — we are grateful for a job at all.
So our seder will gather 26 people around the table, not 42, like last year. We're operating at 38 percent less. Instead of cooking for four weeks, my grandmother will only need to be in the kitchen for two.
When we think about a recession, we think of stimulus packages, CEOs' faces on WANTED posters and boarded up Circuit Cities. But Passover? Nah. Especially in a volatile market, the stability and reliability of family are life's true securities; they are the real treasury.
Have major holidays been a luxury we've taken for granted when times were good? Did we never realize the short supply of this valuable commodity?
Knots in my stomach tighten when I check my IRA, and suddenly, I'm nostalgic for my cousin Ira. Though my interest in his stories is perpetually fixed at a low rate, his anecdotes and marginally appropriate jokes are as much a part of the seder as hiding the afikomen.
The financial future of our country may be unclear, but we're a resilient people. Sure, my father bought Citi stock for two zuzim, but we've been through boils and locusts! Whatever's in store for our portfolios, we'll find a way to get through it. We'll wade our way through these waves of uncertainty (this sea won't part itself), but there is — there must be! — dry land on the other side.
Still, I'd better brush up on the Four Questions, since I might actually be the youngest one there. Let's just pray that this is temporary, and we'll all be together again — next year, in Jerusalem.
Stefanie Makar Weiner is a freelance writer working in public relations. She lives with her husband in Center City.