“Why is tonight different from all other nights?” This is one of the most iconic questions asked during a Passover seder (ritual meal). In celebration of being led out of Egypt from slavery to freedom, Jewish people all over the world observe the holiday differently than any other holiday. The seder includes many examples of these differences, but one of the most prominent is that we do not eat anything leavened throughout the entire eight-day holiday. This commemorates the Israelites leaving Egypt so quickly that there was no time for their bread to rise.
In asking this question year after year, we have never been faced with today’s question, “Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?” On this Passover, we are not able to leave our homes. This means that physically being with family and friends is impossible. It also means that obtaining all of the very specific Passover foods and seder provisions may prove difficult. This year, we have to celebrate Passover in a pandemic a way that we have never had to before.
Many people who have never hosted their own seder are now deciding how they are going to celebrate the holiday. Fortunately, the changing world has brought a number of resources to help people from all backgrounds plan a seder. New resources in a new time come with lots of options that will appeal to people of varying interests and identities. This does not have to be your traditional Maxwell House Haggadah seder.
For people planning to lead their own seders:
PJ Library created Passover Central which includes a free family-friendly Hagaddah (the book used to guide the seder that tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt). You can download it along with a cheat sheet about how to lead the seder. The Hagaddah is geared towards children ages six and up, which is a refreshing change from traditional adult Hagaddot. The site also features stories and activities for kids, recipes, music, and information to help parents prepare for a seder.
Many people are planning to use Zoom or other video conferencing tools to host a seder (or Zeder) with friends and family. The Union for Reform Judaism developed a guide to hosting a fun and engaging virtual seder. The challenge with virtual seders is how to make them interactive and intimate over a computer screen. This resource provides great tips. Even if you are not planning to host a virtual seder, this piece includes videos, podcasts, recipes and food for thought to enhance any Passover experience.
If you are looking for a simpler guide to a meaningful Zoom seder, check out Hillel International’s Guide to Passover. This guide includes tips for a memorable Zoom seder, the top five seder songs, a glossary of Passover vocabulary, and a few articles giving advice on different approaches to Passover. (To be transparent, I work for Hillel International, but I was not involved in putting together this guide.)
For people who want to go to a seder, but don’t want to lead it:
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! There are opportunities to join a virtual seder.
OneTable has put together an incredible resource for people looking to host their own seder or join other virtual seders called Seder 2020. You can search for a virtual seder to attend or post your own seder if you would like to invite people to join your family. Seder 2020 also has a number of resources. They range from a variety of Haggadot covering all interest areas (that can be shared virtually so everyone has the same one) to preparation tips to recipes to supplements that will add a little something extra to your seder.
Many synagogues are offering virtual seder experiences. Contact with your synagogue about any opportunities. Even if you are not connected to a synagogue, you can join a virtual seder like the one hosted by Sixth & I.
This night IS different from all other nights:
We are in unprecedented times. Nothing looks the same as it ever has before. Therefore, you also have the option to redefine what Passover in a pandemic looks like for you. This may be the year that you try hosting your very first seder. This also may be the year that you read a few children’s books about Passover and/or sing songs instead of doing a formal seder. The above resources provide ideas, activities, music, recipes, and stories that you can do without a seder. This may not be the year to commit to a big new undertaking. This may be the year to order a catered meal. It may be the year to tell the story of Passover with hand made paper puppets on popsicle sticks. It may be the year just to be with family and friends over Zoom. Be kind to yourself. Do what feels right for you this year. Chag Pesach Sameach! (Happy Passover!)