Many families are turning to video conference to celebrate Passover Seders because of the coronavirus. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Wednesday was the first night of Passover, a Jewish holiday celebrated with what is called a seder: big groups of family and friends sitting around the table, reading the story of Passover aloud. Songs are sung, prayers are said, symbolic foods are eaten, and a large feast is served that traditionally includes dishes like matzo ball soup and gefilte fish.
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Now that were in quarantine, we cant gather. So how are people going to practice the seder ritual this year if they are separated from their family or, worse, all alone?
Theres the rise of the Zoom seder or the zeder as people are calling it, said Stephanie Butnick, deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and co-host of of Unorthodox, the worlds leading Jewish podcast.
The question we keep getting is, How are we all going to sing together? Because a big part of a Passover seder is the singing; you sing Dayenu, you sing Chad Gadya, she said. When you sing on Zoom, even when you try and talk at the same time, theres a weird lag, you cant really interrupt. But you have to remember that this is fun! Its supposed to be fun and uplifting. Yes, its a serious event, but were supposed to be around the table singing and, yes, this year it might be were sitting at a laptop singing and Uncle Myrons frozen on the screen. But its fun and were going to, I think, find a beauty and a sustenance in this ritual thats new this year.
For orthodox and Sephardic Jews, a sector of Judaism that originates from places like Spain and Turkey, Jewish law prohibits the use of technology on holidays. But something unprecedented happened this week.
A number of Sephardic rabbis announced that in situations of mental health, in situations of elderly people in isolation, it would be permitted to do Zoom for the seder, said Rabbi Ben Hassan of Seattles Sephardic Bikur Holim synagogue. To make sure that no one would be mentally or physically isolated to the point where there would be concern for their long term mental health.
Rabbi Hassans own mother will be alone on the holiday, across the country in Florida.
I put on Facebook recently, Please reach out to me if you have any concerns about spending Pesach alone and know that there are options for you. And a huge amount of people reached out to me privately saying people dont talk about mental health, people dont talk about the difficulties of spending a holiday alone, he said. It doesnt mitigate the entire thing, but to know youre not alone is a major factor for mental health.
For a lot of people, this will be the first time theyll have to cook the holiday meal, or the first time they havent spent the holiday with parents or grandparents.
Virtual happy hours and living room dates the new normal
The Hebrew phrase Gam zeh yaavor, This too shall pass. I think were going to get through this, Rabbi Hassan said. In the first ever Passover story, how did the Israelites spend Passover? They had to lock themselves in their homes and they could not go out, so they would not be killed. Thats the message Ive been telling everyone in Seattle. We stay in our homes and this plague will pass, coronavirus will pass. In two or three months, well be able to celebrate together as a community once again. These memories will last with us a lifetime.
A plague, indeed: The story of Passover includes The Ten Plagues.
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