The Ten Plagues We’ve Overcome This Past Year

With Passover among us, I’m stuck thinking about last year when most of us swiftly shifted our plans and Seders to Zoom meetings instead of the traditional in-person experiences. I remember a close family friend dealing with the emotional trouble of logging into Zoom because of her religious commitment and practice to not use technology during the chag (the holiday). A few weeks ago, I read about a statement from rabbis last year who agreed that the use of technology is permitted under the circumstances of the pandemic, noting that connection with family to observe this holiday overweighs the commandment. This time, with a year under our belts, I keep bringing myself to recalling last year where both families I joined replaced the traditionally repeated line, “Next year in Jerusalem” with “Next year in person.” It’s easy to say I’m disappointed in our reality, but this year I feel much more confident about actually celebrating next year in person.

With this one upset, I am also reminded of how much we’ve overcome in the last year. In my Seders last year, we referred to COVID as a plague of its own, but looking back, COVID was only one of them. I believe that we’ve survived more than this. Instead of the traditional ten plagues that we recite at every Seder, in my opinion, here are the ten that we’ve overcome in the past year:

1. COVID-19 itself

Contagious as it is, disruptive as it is, COVID-19 seems like the other afflictions that we’ve read about in history books. Hopefully, similar to how we eradicated polio and other communicable diseases, we will one day refer to COVID-19 as a pandemic that once existed.

2. Loneliness (darkness)

The ninth in the order of ten, Darkness was ordered by God to cover the land of Egypt for three days. Our “darkness” comes in the way of loneliness and isolation as we’ve had to separate from our family and friends to prevent spreading the virus. For some, this means living truly alone in isolation, perhaps not having human contact for months.

3. Uncertainty

From not knowing how the virus spreads to not knowing when we will receive a vaccine, we’ve faced much ambiguity and doubt throughout the year. At the beginning of the pandemic, we worried about what we didn’t know and now we’re faced with worry about going back to the world we once knew.

4. Lack of PPE and testing materials

Particularly last spring, an inability to protect those who confronted COVID-19 for a living was an existential threat. In a time when hospitals directed their frontline workers to use the same mask for a week and COVID tests were few and far between, not having a grip on the extent of the virus and how to protect the healthcare workers was a plague within a plague.

5. Technology challenges

Migrating online meant engaging in new practices and software. For some, Zoom was introduced as the go-to means to connect, which presented difficulty when suddenly everything was a virtual meeting and there was limited time to learn how to use the tool. It’s hard to believe we conquered audio and visual obstacles during Zoom Seders last year and now we’re all wizards at breakout rooms and chat features!

6. Social division

After having been cooped up for months, and with racial justice brought to light, the world witnessed – and continues to witness – unrest from grassroots initiatives across the political spectrum. Consequently, the physical upheaval from last summer and this past January is the result of this seemingly never-ending plague, and unfortunately communities across the country and world remain divided.

7. Missed holidays/celebrations in person

Whether it was a birthday, graduation, or another regular holiday on the calendar, most of these celebrations were either moved to a post-COVID date or to a filmed/live-streamed online, less personal event. It’s disappointing when the most joyous occasions are eliminated without our consent and this takes an emotional toll on those who’ve worked endlessly to have their celebration eliminated from the realm of possibility due to safety provisions.

8. Missed lifecycle events in person

Similar to missing the holidays, religious rites of passage such as a simchat bat (girls baby naming), brit milah (boys bris), b’nai mitzvot, weddings, funerals, shiva, and more, we missed participating in and honoring these monumental lifecycle events.

9. Fires and natural disasters

In California, we faced the unprecedented Creek and North Complex fires, among others. Other states, such as Texas, saw extraordinary freezing only a few weeks ago. A dichotomy for survival arises when people are expected to remain distant to prevent the spread of COVID but are faced with evacuation challenges, some evacuees resorting to shelters with no choice in social distancing.

10. Unsurmountable death

This goes without saying. The final of ten plagues was the death of the firstborn. Likewise, we have been surrounded by death, but this time, less controlled and without a foreseeable end. Unlike the biblical plague, no change of God’s mindset can end the mass casualty, but we can make conscious decisions to protect ourselves and others by staying home and social distancing.

In the Seder, we repeat the word Dayenu, which roughly means “that would be enough.” We say this as a recognition of gratitude on the other side of liberation. While I reflect on last year and celebrate Passover this year, I am thinking of my own Dayenu moments. This year, I am grateful for the smallest gifts which I often pass over (pun intended). I am grateful for science and the vaccines that most of my family has received, and I am patiently waiting to be considered eligible. I am thankful that I am healthy enough to write this and share it with you. I am thankful for the support systems that have been on my side, or at least my screens, over the past year.

Even as the pandemic continues, even as we survive the plagues of our every day, I am grateful that no matter how near or far we are to each other, at least we have each other to hopefully celebrate with next year in person. Dayenu.

Categories: Holidays, Community


March 31, 2021


Leah Marquis