This is my favorite Jewish holiday. Memories flood into my head. The best story told every year around the family table was that my father, age four, the youngest of his clan, was asked to go to the door to welcome Elijah the prophet to the Seder table. He proceeds to the door, opens it and finds the 6 foot 5-inch doorman with the immortal nickname Sweet Man (for his ever-present cologne) there with a package for my grandfather. Dan barely managed to say, “Elijah?!” before fainting from shock only to be revived with a glass of cold water from his gleeful brothers. So, it was always with a bit of trepidation that each of Dan’s kids would have his or her turn to go to the door. The tradition was passed onto my three kids who visited the grandparents for seder.
This year will feature a virtual seder. I will miss the visitors who happen to be in New York City and were invited to dinner, such as Jacob Kastelenic from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. Or the friends of my kids, often not Jewish, enjoying their first round of Dayenu and matzoh ball soup steaming hot from the kitchen. Instead, it will be a Zoom meeting among the nuclear family, with my wife and stepchildren, my kids and my brother and his wife and the ever-optimistic Renee. We will make do with a less ornate feast, no gefilte fish, homemade maror to simulate the construction blocks used by Jewish slaves to build palaces and monuments to Pharaoh and matzoh sent by Rabbi Lazar from Russia.
There is a moment in the seder when we recite the 10 plagues assessed by God against Pharaoh to force him to free the Jews. Death of the first-born child always had deep meaning for me, a special dread in the proclamation. But the death toll being imposed on the poor in our global society by COVID-19 is the modern plague. We need to recognize, as Dr. Fauci said this week, the higher impact of this virus among African-Americans and their disproportionate suffering. In Chicago, where African Americans comprise 30 percent of the city’s population, more than half of those who have contracted COVID-19 are African American and over 70 percent of those who have died are African American. This disease is also taking a sharp scythe to service industry jobs, held disproportionately by immigrants. This Passover, my thoughts and prayers will be with them.
I choose at this time to find joy in Passover, to appreciate the opportunity and responsibility of freedom, physical well-being and eternal curiosity. The other highlight of Edelman family seders is a progression around the table, asking each participant what he or she is grateful for. I have much to celebrate, most notably my family. I do everything in my power to keep you all healthy, happy and proud to carry the family name. I am so proud of who you are, what you contribute to our society and our company. I am also thankful for my extended DJE family, who have shown their true character in this time of personal stress and business challenge. I will be praying tonight for all of you, for your kids and spouses, parents and siblings. We have so much to do in the coming months to help the world rise to its feet. “And the blood will be for you a sign upon the houses where you will be and I will see the blood and skip over you, and there will be no plague to destroy you when I smite the people of the land of Egypt. And this day shall be for you as a memorial and you shall celebrate it as a festival for the Lord throughout your generations.” (Exodus 12:13-14)
Richard Edelman is CEO.