Empty Chairs

At the Passover Seder, we begin the Four Questions by asking “Why is this night different from all other nights.”  This year, for me, that question was but an echo of another with which I had to contend:  “Why is this Seder different from all other S’darim?”

That difference was that this year, for the two S’darim that I attended, there were some painfully empty chairs, either literally or figuratively that in past years were occupied.  They were the chairs that in the past were occupied by the members of my family but this year stood empty.  With the my wife living in Detroit as a result of being transferred there by her “day job,” and it not being one of the weekends when my congregation has contracted for her to return and serve as our partime cantor for our worship services, she  remained in Detroit, sharing the S’darim with her mother, her brother, her sister, their spouses and their children.  My eldest daughter, Shira, remained in Louisville, where she lives and works, conducting her own Seder with her friends. Since, like the Cantor, our 28 year old son with autism, Josh, visits the Quad Cities every other weekend – weekends when the Cantor is home – he spent Pesach at his group home in Iowa City.  As for our youngest, Helene, the price of comparative airfares dictated that she travel from her school in Minneapolis to Detroit to share Seder with her mother.   Therefore this was the first Pesach of my entire life (not counting the year when I studied in Jerusalem) when I had no family with which to share the holiday.  This was the first Pesach since my wife and I met in which we have not been together for Seder.

My wife and I both knew that this would be difficult for me.  We spoke of it as we parted the week before.  But just how difficult it would be did not really strike home for me until I was reviewing the physical layout of the congregational Seder and looked at the head table, at which point I was confronted by the empty chairs that in the past were filled by my wife and my children.  Others would be assigned those seats but of course it simply would not be the same.  Pesach is such a family time and I found myself overwhelmed and overpowered by a dreadful sense of loneliness; one that I carried with me all the way through the S’darim.  One that I still carry with me, even now that the S’darim are passed.  It is a loneliness not unlike the loneliness I felt on the first night at home after my wife moved to Detroit and Helene went off to college; when at the end of the evening I walked through the house, turning off the lights on my way to my bedroom, passing all those rooms, especially those bedrooms, so recently occupied but now empty.

I share this with you because all too often we take our families too much for granted.  There are even times when, if we are honest about it, we have to admit that we have viewed their companionship as more of a burden than a blessing – as we yearned for some “alone” time; for time just for ourselves.  But let us be careful of what we wish for.  It is nice to grab some private time but it is only nice when we can place it side-by-side with family time.

Over the past several months, there have been those who have jokingly quipped with me, asking, “Isn’t it nice to be leading the bachelor life once again?”  I, on my part, have jokingly responded, “Not so much so, for in my situation I only get to bear the burdens without enjoying the benefits of bachelorhood.”  But joking aside, without the companionship of my family, my life has been incomplete.  In truth, there have been times when it has felt more that incomplete and closer to meaningless.  For it is our loved ones who grant the truest meaning to our lives and without them there remains a vacuum which perhaps is impossible to fill.

As we move beyond Pesach, if there is anything we should carry away from it, let it be the warm memories of our families gathered round our Seder tables and how we should never forget how are important those we love are in our lives. Let us hold them close and hold them dear.  On their account are our lives blessed.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Autism, Family, Gail Karp, Helene Karp my daughter, Henry Karp, Jewish Holidays, Joshua Karp, Karp, Loneliness, Muriel Posner, Passover, Pesach, Seder, Shira Karp, Temple Emanuel of Davenport

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4 Comments on “Empty Chairs”

  1. Ted Nitz Says:

    Henry — A thoughtful and moving post which underlines the power of the the shared meal. I hope that you are able to bring your family together for Pesach next year. Best wishes!

  2. Brian Rosenthal Says:

    Rabbi- I can relate on some level to what you said. Although Pesach is over, the lonliness still continues. I find that I am very busy through the week (days), but when I return home during the evenings, when Jordon is not home due to rehearsals (several nights), and I am alone for the most of the night, it is hard. We may get an hour together when he returns home, but due to my day schedule, I am soon off to bed to start another day. Otherwise, it’s just the cat and myself.

    I find that I sometimes feel like I can’t concentrate, whether it is reading, or the simple act of trying to watch television. I will go the gym and find myself looking at the clock on the wall, or checking to see if their is a text message. It is a sense of depression. I guess, in the end, I simply do not like being alone.

    The consolation I have is that Jordon will be back. So, I cannot even imagine what you must go through because it would tear me apart. I hope this situation resolves itself for you, and somehow you are able to be relieved of the anxiety that lonlness can cause. Hopefully the cell phone and Skype, if you have it, and I recommend it if you don’t, can provide SOME consolation and relief. Just hearing each other’s voices can at least bring some calm and reassurance that everything in the end is okay. I wish I knew what the “cure” was, but unfortunately I just do not. But what I can do is pray. Therefore, my prayers are with you, as well as Cantor.

    • ravkarp Says:

      Brian, I have been meaning to reply to your comment so as to thank you for your caring response to my posting. You are a very sensitive individual. We at Temple Emanuel are thrilled to have you back in the Quad Cities and back in the Temple Emanuel family!


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