How to Host a Meaningful Virtual Passover Seder
Because this night will most definitely be different from all other nights.
We ask a lot of questions (four, exactly!) on Passover—such is the nature of the holiday. This year, however, Jewish families all over the world are posed with a fifth: How can we meaningfully hold a Seder if we cannot physically congregate together? "It's difficult, because Passover is so experiential," says Rabbi Leora Kaye, the director of program for the Union for Reform Judaism. "But the core of the holiday's message is no different than it is any other year: Passover is about telling a story, and how individuals, families, and communities went from something hard into something beautiful."
"We're still telling the story we know really well—we're simply telling it differently," Kaye continues, noting that many families are preparing to take Passover online, via Zoom. "So many Jewish communities—communities that are deeply connected through in-person experiences—have transitioned to online experiences in a week. This was a steep climb, but they were quick climbers. And this means that any family can do this." With some inventive thinking and a little bit of prep work, yours can, too. To help you craft and prepare for your own virtual Seder, we tapped Kaye and Brittany Kahn, the Associate Regional Director of BBYO, a Jewish teen movement, for their best tips.
Seek out online resources.
Resources—including virtual Haggadahs and literature on how to host a Zoom Seder—are all around you. You simply have to know where to look. "Right as schools, businesses, and so much of the world started to go virtual in mid-March, our international office stepped up with an incredible platform: BBYO On Demand," says Kahn of one such resource. "It has quickly become a go-to hub for virtual programming, intended for Jewish teens all around the world." It's also filled with incredible virtual Passover guides for families—and provides a way for Jewish teens to stay connected around the world.
Remove the pressure.
This year's Passover motto? "Under promise and over deliver," says Kaye. "Don't put so much pressure on yourself—this doesn't have to be the year that you become the most observant person and do all 15 steps of the Seder." Instead, she says, focus on three steps and interpret them in a meaningful, intentional way. "This will end up giving your family a much more memorable experience then if you're trying to do the exact thing in Haggadah. This is a different time."
Get creative with the Seder plate.
Come Passover, certain foods that traditionally appear on the Seder plate may not be available in grocery stores; families are also limiting trips to the supermarket in an effort to practice social distancing. Whatever the case, Kahn suggests focusing on the spiritual more than the physical when putting yours together: "If a certain food can't be found, get creative. My family has been using a printed picture of a shank bone on the Seder plate for years!"
Kaye agrees: "You could ask the kids to draw photos—or, if you're hosting a Zoom Seder, clarify that everyone is responsible for 'bringing' something for the Seder plate. However you bring it is great: Maybe you'll draw it, or maybe you'll send through a dancing shank bone GIF. There are so many ways to make sure that your Seder plate feels full."
In the same vein, Kahn advises leaning into these limitations as a way to dive deeper into the content of the Haggadah. "If we can't acquire plastic frogs to throw around the table for the second plague, maybe that's a moment to have the kids step away from the table and see who can do the best frog jump," she offers. "If it's a family tradition to gather for a big Seder and sing songs about freedom together, maybe this year's smaller Seder is an opportunity for everyone at the table to spend a few minutes sharing what freedom means to them."
Let your children take the reins.
Remember: The virtual space is your children's domain, so let them play a role in making your Seder happen. This is also fitting when you consider the context of any Seder, virtual or not—the youngest person's presence is paramount, since they are tasked with asking the Four Questions. "This is a time, in a meta way, to really use this intergenerational thing. You might not know how to use Zoom, but your 30-year-old son probably does," says Kaye. "And your 10-year-old might be able to figure out how to put emojis on people's faces when you're re-telling the story of Passover, giving everyone a unique role in the story. Teach the story from one generation to the next and allow these generations to talk to and teach each other."
Use your Seder as an opportunity to talk about what's happening in the world.
This isn't difficult to do, since so much of Passover's story ties into our reality. Kahn suggests digging into that fourth and final question: Why is this Seder different from other years'? And why is that important? Another prompt to pose? "Seder translates to "order"—and right now it might feel like this pandemic has thrown things out of their regular order," she says. "Why do we think it's important we go through this ordered holiday and read the same Hagaddah every year, even in times of crisis?"
In a time of social isolation, it's easily to feel disconnected from the Jewish community at large—something that's difficult around a holiday as communal as Passover. Draw comfort, says Kaye, by understanding that everyone is experiencing this new, virtual ritual at the exact same time: "Right now, the world is experiencing a hardness together—but this to our opportunity to experience a sweetness together, as well."