This, Too, Shall Passover

Many communities, including ours, have adopted unusual practices to reduce risk of harm to those most vulnerable to a Coronavirus infection. We are staying at […]

Many communities, including ours, have adopted unusual practices to reduce risk of harm to those most vulnerable to a Coronavirus infection. We are staying at home, and limiting our trips to the store. We are keeping a distance of 6 feet between ourselves and others.  However odd, this unity of practice makes me feel as though the Jewish Value of Pikuach Nefesh, or Saving a Life, has been embraced by the whole society. Despite the very real hardships this entails, everyone’s doing the mitzvah, whatever of their religious, or non-religious, background. 

As CBJ Board, staff and volunteers have learned, during the recent “reach out” to each household in the congregation, is that the connection to the people in our lives is critical. Some of us are the only one at home. We may have to extend ourselves and let folks know we need to be in touch. Others are thrust into an intimacy with their family or housemates that can be overwhelming as much as it’s nourishing. 

Then we come to Passover, just over the horizon. Traditions we have cherished—mom’s matzah ball soup, grandpa’s chrain, the aunt or uncle who insists everyone go back and sing Hallel after the meal, they may not be happening at this year’s Passover Seder. Those who customarily travel home to another locale for this holiday cannot do so; it’s disappointing, but we are going to make the best of it. 

With many of the familiar elements stripped away, we can reorient our expectations and build up this year’s Seder based on what’s most important about the holiday. A children’s song asks, “What are the things we need for our Seder table?” The list of ritual items and foods are listed and repeated, one by one, to teach us how we celebrate the Seder. I love the story of moving to freedom from slavery. The way the enslaved Israelites had to truly cry out from their suffering, before God would bring them out of Egypt. I love the songs, and of course, the food. But I agree with the children’s song, it concludes, “the people ‘round the table are the thing we need the most.” The most important thing about Passover Seders for me, is the people I share them with.

Mah Nishtanah…?” Never mind all other nights, we ask “Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?” We are required to stay home, and have a “Seder/Shelter In Place.” It feels antithetical to the traditions, yet we have an opportunity to use technology, and low tech tools in a new way.  Here are some ideas for updating the Passover Seder in order to make a connection with loved ones, wherever they are.

  • Have an online Seder. Participants make use of one of the communication technologies, such as Zoom (sign up here), to “sit” together and read the Haggadah each at their own table. Assign parts of the haggadah to be read or acted out by your family and friends to make their participation as active as possible. Practice your online seder in advance with a friend, whatever platform you choose, in order to be familiar with the controls. Zoom’s 40 minute limit on meeting times can be incorporated into the rhythm of the seder. By scheduling back to back meetings, you can have an almost continuous experience.
  • Tell the story of Pesach in a new way by creating your own version at Haggadot.com This is a wonderful website, and by signing up for a free account you can take your time to put together a haggadah and collaborate with others. Original text or art work are possible to include, or you can search the Haggadot.com database for graphics, texts that fit your vision. The templates are easy to revise and organize, and distribute to your seder crew.
  • For those who can’t be present via the internet, or a phone call, create a photo array in a new spot, such as the kitchen, or perhaps even on the Seder table.

The Passover Seder is one of the most persistent of Jewish rituals, even for persons and families who do not keep Shabbat, or Kashrut, or belong to a synagogue. Each Seder follows a structure that has been handed down for generations, yet is performed according to familial and local customs. Seders have been held in luxury and in secret, in times of plenty and times of want. Yet they persist, year after year. As we retell the Haggadah, we have a chance to bring this moment to bear in our Passover Seder. Chag Pesach Sameach!