Creating a Family/Community Seder in the Age of the Coronavirus
By Rabbi Yossie Goldman
In times such as these when social distancing has become a reality in our everyday lives and with Pesach being around the corner, many Jews who would have otherwise participated in a family or a community Seder are at a loss.
I was thinking how to respond to the changing needs and circumstances that we are all facing and especially on Pesach. I would, therefore, like to suggest conducting ‘Pesach B’Yachad (together)’ a virtual Seder through Zoom, facetime, Skype or other technologies. Pesach B’Yachad can, thus, provide the possibility to enjoy the Seder with family and friends who are in quarantine. While a virtual Seder experience is not the same as being together in one room, it will provide the participants with a sense of community, meaning and joy.
Here are my suggestions for implementing the Pesach B’Yachad project:
When: For the Traditional community – the afternoon of Erev Pesach, prior to Candle lighting or an evening during Chol HaMoed.
Please note: Some leading Israeli Sephardic orthodox rabbis issued a halachic ruling permitting, in light of the coronavirus outbreak, the use of the online conference “ZOOM” to conduct the Seder on the eve of Pesach.
For theLiberal community – Eve of Pesach (first or second night), or an evening during Chol HaMoed.
Choose a charismatic, knowledgeable and well prepared Seder leader, with a good sense of humor and a pleasant voice to lead the Seder.
1. A traditional Seder as you would have under more normal circumstances.
2. Abbreviated Seder: Focus on the key elements of the Haggadah, cutting out some of the supporting texts.
a. Before the Seder assign Haggadah sections to be read out loud to several participants.
b. The Seder leader should have brief bridging instructions/explanations for the various parts of the Haggadah. Better yet, you can invite participants to briefly comment and share their own thoughts on parts of the Haggadah.
c. The leader should prepare short meaningful stories interspaced during the Seder.
d. Set time (no more than 10-20 minutes) for a community discussion Examples: ask participants to share a Seder experience from their past that was meaningful to him/her; In these difficult times what is the message of Pesach to us, our family, our neighbors and to all the people of the world? You should brief several of the participants before the Seder so they can open the discussion.
e. Songs and singing are important! The leader should encourage everyone to join in the singing even if merely with La La La.
f. If children are part of the Seder small Afikoman gifts should be prepared.
1. Designate a person who will take care of all the technical Zoom, etc., arrangements for the virtual Seder. You might want to do a test run of the system before the Seder.
2. Publicize and invite your community to register for the Seder.
3. Provide each registered participant with a downloadable Haggada (see Haggadot.com – Haggadot are available on this site in different languages and it’s free). It is important that everyone should have the same Haggadah.
4. Provide participants with a Seder plate replica (they can download and place on a regular plate).
5. Help to provide participants with matzoth and the six items for the Seder plate. Some communities are distributing/selling matzah so let the participants know about where this is available. Better yet, if possible, prepare kits with matzah and other traditional Seder items for pick up at your Synagogue, community center, etc.
6. If Seder plate items are unavailable they can be artistically created as an origami (paper- folding). Or encourage the participants to use their own ingenuity.
7. Participants should invite family members and others who are with them to join the Seder.
8. Encourage participants to prepare a festive table for the Seder including wine and decorative flowers (real or artificial). Each person should plan their ‘special’ Pesach meal.
9. Create a pre-Pesach forum asking participants to share with each other how they are planning their ‘special B’Yachad Seder’ including decorations, food, etc., as well as sharing ideas how best to enhance the upcoming Pesach B’Yachad Seder experience.
Wishing you, your family and community a happy, healthy and kosher Pesach.
Rabbi Yossie Goldman is the former Hillel International Director of Global Expansion and the founding director of Hillel Israel, Hillel in the Former Soviet Union and Europe.