Last week, I sat beneath a tent with about 100 people on the grounds of Temple Emanuel in Newton. I wasn’t at a wedding or a graduation: It was an early Passover celebration for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters (JBBBS) and its Friend 2 Friend program. “Bigs” brought their “Littles,” and “Friends” attended together. For many of us, it was the first time we’d gathered with so many people in exactly two years. It wasn’t even that cold! (Matzo ball soup from Dushez Catering helped.)

The event had been on hiatus since 2020 due to COVID, so it had been three years since many in the group had been together. Rabbi Karen Landy from Hebrew SeniorLife led the service, and cantorial soloist Jodi Blankstein sang. The singing was terrific. My “Friend” is actually a professionally trained vocalist, and she got to flex her crooning skills a bit while our dining companions looked on, definitely impressed. Songs were traditional and modern, including one from Matisyahu. And we all got to take home an inclusive Haggadah, which includes learning prompts. When explaining the Four Children, participants are asked: How do you learn best? 

Rabbi Landy was charismatic and fun. She did a great job infusing the seder with a modern touch. For instance, she asked guests what modern plagues they’d like to eradicate (sexism, war in Ukraine and Lyme disease were common themes). The Haggadah also enumerated contemporary plagues relevant to the group, like stereotypes and physical barriers. I think, I hope, people felt seen and heard.

This was a more concise, music-filled service than many, good for the friskier kids in the audience (and, in fairness, the temps were beginning to drop into the 40s). But there was still plenty of time for conversation. Over the past few months, it’s been challenging to connect with my “Friend” in person due to new surges and cold weather. Having a common event to attend around a structure and theme helped a lot, and so did that tent.

Most of all, though, being around so many other people in non-Arctic temps felt fittingly liberating. It was a bit of normalcy after a long stretch of isolation, especially for some of the “Friends” who are matched with pals to ease their loneliness. It felt organic and happy. It felt alive. My only quibble was that there wasn’t any kugel, but I’ll make up for it this week.