Though I am now part of the Modern Orthodox movement, growing up my family was very secular. We celebrated two Jewish holidays every year: Hanukkah and Passover. But even then, I was deeply connected to these traditions and looked forward to Passover every year. As an adult, I can still hear my mother’s low contralto voice in my head reading the first lines of The Family Haggadah, “The sun is now hidden and the full moon is rising…” If I close my eyes I can imagine a full moon in the sky, and my younger self opening the door to let all those who are hungry come and eat with us.
To my eyes today, the moon is difficult to distinguish from streetlights, and the unique lilt in people’s voices is gone. In high school I became legally blind, and last year at age 26, I learned I was losing my hearing and I am now DeafBlind. It leaves people to wonder what I might find exciting about a holiday that focuses so much on verbal storytelling, colorful Seder plates, and reading out of a book whose print I can no longer read. While I certainly cannot deny that Passover doesn’t hold the same anticipation and excitement it once stirred inside of me, Jewish holidays can all be experienced through more than the eyes and ears.
During the Seder, I use my other three senses to experience our exodus from Egypt. I feel the cool water flowing through my fingers and over my palms, which purifies my heart and body and prepare myself for the journey. I love to feel the ornate etchings on otherwise smooth kiddish cups, and the thin, delicate embroidery work on matzo covers that are only used this one time every year, reminding me the importance of beautifying the mitzvah of a Seder. There is no other time of year where I willingly dip karpas, or anything else, into salt water and put it on my tongue to taste the bitter tears of our ancestors who were enslaved, then wandered the desert for 40 years. Then there’s the relief when I smell the sweet smell of freedom through the aroma of apples and cinnamon of the charoset. The smooth, cool, texture of the matzo reminds me of Jerusalem stone, the dryness in my mouth ensures I don’t forget the long, arduous journey our ancestors took in the desert get to the land of Israel. Even the text of the Haggadah can be brought to my fingertips. A braille version including both the Hebrew and the English translation sits year-round on my bookshelf, waiting for the full moon to rise in the month of Nissan.
I would be remiss if I did not admit that a lot of the Seder does end up going over my head if my hosts are not invested in including me. Putting me in a position at the table so I can hear what the speaker is saying, is something that is always appreciated so that I, too, can hear the retelling of the story. Another good tactic is sitting me next to someone who won’t mind giving me information on what’s happening—if someone ate too much horseradish and is changing colors and ran out to get water, I want to know!
What really gets me through a Seder, especially one in Hebrew, is someone who can keep me updated on what is going on. I have a low frustration tolerance for being left out, and I can get agitated quickly if I don’t understand what is happening around me. Thankfully, it’s easy to keep me in the loop. It is small adjustments like someone saying, “We’re passing the matzo around now.” Or “We’re filling Elijah’s cup.” Or “We’re opening the door.” That are the difference between me feeling frustrated and isolated—and having a genuinely enjoyable and meaningful Passover.