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To my grandsons: Passover and Easter are difficult this year — and a lasting gift

(Ross May / Los Angeles Times)

Dear Grandsons,

I know you were unhappy you couldn’t come to our house for Passover Seder. I glimpsed your downcast (but still angelic) faces on my computer screen as our family gathered on Zoom to retell the story of how Moses led our people out of slavery in ancient Egypt: you and your parents at your dinner table; your uncle and his girlfriend at theirs; your grandpa and me at ours — even though we all live less than 30 minutes apart by car.

(Full disclosure: Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is an investor in Zoom.)

Just three weeks ago, as spirited 6- and 8-year-old boys, you were anticipating spring break play dates, a weekend sleepover with Grandpa and me, and a kid-centric vacation — think swimming pools and s’mores — with your parents.

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Then, out of the blue, two words you had never heard —“coronavirus” and “pandemic” — were on everyone’s lips. School was canceled, play dates were canceled, trips were canceled. You were confined to your house with your parents 24/7. It might have been OK if they could play with you. But your mom and dad were working, even though all of you were under the same roof.

Streaming church services and virtual Easter egg hunts are among the ways to make the most of our first — and, we hope, last — Easter in self-isolation.

Grandpa and I offered to bring you to our house. We would play games and build things with Legos, watch movies and eat popcorn, savor triple-decker ice cream cones. Your mom said it was too dangerous. Not for you, but for us. Older people, it turns out, may be more susceptible to COVID-19. As a mother and a grandmother, that made me far less worried than if it were the other way around.

Remember when I stopped by to pick up the medicinal teas, vitamin C and zinc tablets your mom insisted we take to boost our immune systems? The two of you were shooting hoops in the driveway. I longed to hug (and tickle) you, but your mom said I had to stay six feet away. When the basketball rolled my way, I picked it up and aimed at the basket. Your mom scolded me for touching a germy object. I missed the shot — basketball was never my thing— and for the first time ever, I felt old.

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This time was supposed to be about the two holidays your family celebrates in spring: Passover, thanks to your mom’s side, and Easter, thanks to your dad’s. A friend told me her grandkids asked whether Passover and Easter were canceled this year because of the coronavirus. I bet that entered your minds too.

Here’s why Passover, which began Wednesday, and Sunday’s celebration of Easter are not canceled: Holidays are about traditions; traditions bind families and communities; traditions are passed down from one generation to the next. Traditions are traditions because they’re celebrated year after year. But this year, we had to celebrate Passover and Easter a bit differently.

Your mom has always been creative; she outdid herself. When the supermarket was out of matzo, she took what was left of the flour in her pantry, added some water, salt and a little oil and made her own. You helped by rolling out the dough. When she was reluctant to use her last dozen eggs for Easter egg dyeing, she taught you how to make pinholes in the eggshells and blow out the yolk and the egg white. You dyed the shells, and she scrambled the yolks and whites for breakfast.

This year, your family honored holiday traditions in a new way. Guess what? I bet making homemade matzo and dyeing Easter eggshells will become traditions you’ll pass along to your children and grandchildren.

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During the Passover Seder service, you took turns asking the four questions. The first: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” It’s a lead-in to discussing what our ancestors experienced in their difficult journey from slavery to freedom — and understanding why we commemorate it year after year.

We also addressed questions about the coronavirus. Why did it happen? Will it ever end? How can our family stay safe? When I was your age, my greatest fear was of Russians dropping an atomic bomb. I’m betting you and your friends, although you may not discuss it among yourselves, fear this plague just as much.

But this threat is different: There are no good guys and bad guys. Everyone must fight it — and is fighting it — together. That’s why we must obey social distancing rules. That’s why we must feel compassion for those who are suffering.

Thanks to recent rains and less smog (because the coronavirus keeps people off the road), this spring is the most beautiful I’ve seen in Los Angeles.

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When I take my daily walk in the neighborhood, I see puffy white clouds in a blue sky above instead of haze. I hear the buzzing of bees and the flapping of crows’ wings instead of the drone of traffic. I’m reminded that Passover and Easter celebrate feelings people experience in spring: renewal, rebirth, the awakening of love and hope for the future.

Of course, I look forward to the day when cars once more fill the streets; people gather at offices, restaurants and concerts; and you and other children join their friends in real school, not in “pretend school,” as you dubbed Zoom classes.

But right now I want you to pat yourselves on the back. With resilience, you’ve adapted to the limitations and changes, and to the discomfort, frustration and fear, of these stressful weeks.

Listen to Grandma, who loves you: Someday you will appreciate that although this time was hard, it was also the time when you bonded more closely with your parents — and when you two brothers became best friends for life.


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