How to Host a Virtual Seder for Passover
Every year, Jewish families commemorate the freedom and exodus of the Israelites from Egypt with Passover seders. Here's how you can make the holiday meaningful and memorable, even when you can't be at the same table as your loved ones.
Passover is the oldest continuously celebrated Jewish holiday, commemorating Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt. To mark the occasion, which generally falls in March or April, families trade bread for matzoh (an unleavened alternative that symbolizes how quickly Hebrews had to flee Egypt—they had no time for the dough to rise) and gather for a Passover seder. The festive meal involves telling the story of Passover by collectively reading from the Haggadah (a guidebook that includes details of the Exodus, as well as songs and prayers) and indulging in traditional foods—like matzoh ball soup and kugel—and wine.
This year, with social distancing and stay at home orders solidly in place all over the country, many families are shifting their Passover seders online, meeting up with family members on video conferencing platforms to eat, drink, ask the Four Questions, and find the afikoman.
Although being unable to physically dine with loved ones might prove frustrating, there is a positive way to think about our current circumstances. "Each Passover, we ask, 'Why is this night different from all other nights?'" says Sarah Rabin Spira, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington's Manager of PJ Library. "This year, we are noting the differences from all other years, too. That's OK! Embrace the change as an opportunity to try something new."
Here, tips for making your remote seder memorable and meaningful.
Pick your Platform
You might want to weigh the pros and cons of each video conferencing platform in order to land on the one that will work best for your family. Check out this helpful list from the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, D.C.
No matter which you choose, talking over one another is a potential pitfall, points out Navah Berg, a mom of one from Boca Raton, Florida. "While reading from the Haggadah, you should ask everyone to mute or hold off until it's their turn to read," she advises.
You can also experiment with your platform's bells and whistles, which can add a bit of whimsy to the day, especially for kids. Berg says, "Screen share and virtual backgrounds make Zoom fun. I use the Snapchat lens and have images in a folder to share from previous Passovers we have done."
Choose Your Haggadah
Ensuring you and your remote seder attendees are all reading from the same Hagaddah is key. Thankfully, you'll find plenty of resources online.
"I love the PJ Library Haggadah, which is available to download for free as a PDF," notes Spira. "You can also create your own to download at Haggadot.com." For families with little ones, she recommends The Kveller Haggadah: A Seder for Curious Kids and The 2-Minute Haggadah.
"To include people joining by Zoom, you could either download it as a PDF and share your screen, or you can send everyone the link in advance to download and print the Haggadah themselves," suggests Spira.
- RELATED: Fun Facts About Passover
Have Prepared Foods Delivered
Whether you want to reduce the stress of prep or simply support the restaurant community during this difficult time, consider ordering appetizers, side dishes, and dessert. Chef and TV host Andrew Zimmern recommends New York's Russ and Daughters, which ships nationwide.
Snag Three Seder Plate Must-Haves
There are three things the seder needs: something to represent the pascal lamb (often a shankbone, but a parsnip or even a picture will do), matzoh (the unleavened bread), and something for maror (the bitter herb, which could be horseradish but also a bitter green like arugula, endive or Romaine lettuce), explains Spira.
And not to worry if you don't happen to have a special seder plate. "Any plate with these objects becomes a seder plate," says Spira.
Get Creative with Charoset
Charoset, the chopped fruit and nut mixture used to represent the mortar the slaves used to build the pyramids, might be especially symbolic this year. "There’s no set recipe," notes Spira. "The charoset made by Jews reflects what’s readily available that spring. In eastern Europe, that was apples left in cold storage over a long winter. In Italy, that might include oranges. In Suriname, bananas. In the Middle East, dates and figs. So, too, can your charoset this year represent what’s available."
Consider combining a finely-chopped fruit, chopped nuts (if allergies allow), some spices (cinnamon or even cardamom or nutmeg), and a liquid to bind it together (often wine or grape juice), she advises.
Keep Prep Simple
Whether you're heading out to the grocery store or ordering delivery items, procuring the usual items for the meal might prove a bit more challenging than usual. Focusing on the basics can help alleviate stress. "Be easy on yourself," advises Zimmern, who recently shared his best Passover tips on his site. "If you can’t find every ingredient on your list, allow for alternatives or substitutions."
Spira agrees, noting, "For recipes, everyone’s ability to find ingredients will vary widely." For this reason, she suggests sharing your family’s recipes with your other guests for them to re-create at home, or getting creative since you only have your immediate family’s tastebuds to satisfy.
A few items to consider including: hard-boiled eggs and crudité for snacking, matzah ball soup, brisket (here's a recipe by Zimmern), matzo farfel, charoset, a veggie, and "crack matzoh," a chocolate-caramel-covered matzoh dessert. (Check out recipes from around the world on the Federation’s Jewish Food Experience.)
Have a "Rehearsal" the Night Before
"Many of us are having to be quick learners with new technologies or new ways of using them," admits Spira. "Help all participants feel comfortable for that night by walking them through the technology in advance—logging in, trying the options, figuring out where to place their phone/tablet/computer. Think of it as a dress rehearsal, so that everyone knows their part come Passover night."
If you're up for it, you can also use this time to lead a virtual cooking class for making matzoh ball soup or preparing whatever the family’s signature traditional dish is, says Zimmern. "It's a fun way to help everyone in the kitchen from afar," he notes.
Don't Limit Interactions to the Seder Table
You wouldn't only chat with loved ones at the dining table, so why not bring them along for other aspects of the experience from start to finish? "You can involve others in your preparation by video chatting while you each cook your dishes," advises Spira.
Assign Roles to Make Attendees Feel Included
Either before or on the day of, you'll do well to assign attendees roles, so that everyone has a part. "For example, one household can lead the blessing for the karpas (the spring vegetable dipped in salt water), another can lead the blessing over the wine/juice," advises Spira. "Have the youngest child learn the Four Questions, so they know they have an important role. And have one person designated as a host who can keep it moving along."
Take Heart in the Bright Spots
It's normal to feel disappointed that the holiday won't be the same this year, says Zimmern. But there are positives: "When the whole family doesn’t show up, you don’t have to clean the whole house," he points out. "If the matzoh balls are too dense, don’t worry, you’re the only one who has to know. There's less stress when you’re just cooking for yourself and your immediate family. And this is a chance to gather family from all over the country or world, so maybe your celebration will actually be larger than normal."
No matter how your virtual seder comes together, Spira recommends "sharing your own positive attitude that this will be fun." After all, as long as the host has that perspective, she believes, "it will be the good kind of contagious."