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A coronavirus seder planner

To supplement our popular haggadah, ‘A Different Night’ — or any other haggadah: Tips to help you connect, while apart, for a socially distant meaningful, memorable Passover

From the cover of 'A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices,' by Mishael Zion and Noam Zion. (Anne Gordon/The Times of Israel)
From the cover of 'A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices,' by Mishael Zion and Noam Zion. (Anne Gordon/The Times of Israel)

This night is truly going to be different from all other nights.

As Passover sets in this year, world Jewry faces a unique challenge: in order to stay alive, we need to stay apart. Thousands of people used to being guests at the seder, will become seder leaders for the first time. Parents and grandparents, used to passing on the traditions, stories and recipes of their families as they host and lead the seder, will find themselves in physical isolation from their loved ones. Meanwhile a global pandemic doesn’t lend itself to a celebratory mood. How do we make a meaningful and memorable evening out of this challenging situation?

For us, this is no theoretical question. We live three Jerusalem blocks from each other — but we won’t be able to be together. Social distancing mandates that Noam and wife Marcelle will have no guests — something that hasn’t happened in their 45 years of marriage. Meanwhile, Mishael will lead seder with just his wife and four daughters for the first time.

But a crises-laden Passover has never stopped the Jewish people before. Having written best-selling Passover Haggadahs in both English and Hebrew, we decided to put our heads together and offer some useful tips with which to take on “Coronavirus Passover 2020.”

We hope these tips will help your family as we all tackle this international human challenge.

  1. Make a Plan: As simple as it sounds, any good seder requires a plan, especially in this new reality. Build a menu — not only of food, but of activities, ideas and traditions. Make sure young children get a good nap. Prepare any foodstuffs you can in advance, ready to serve for easy transfer to the table. And involve children and teens in building the plan. The more they feel engaged, the better the outcome for all.
  2. First Zoom Out: This year, more than ever, it is important to have a wide family Passover meet-up — by videoconferencing. Plan to celebrate online together, either on seder night itself or before the holiday begins. But keep it focused: Sing some seder favorites, perhaps hear Kiddush from the oldest family member, and have the youngest show off their Ma Nishtana. The traditional blessing for children will surely feel timely. Our suggestion here – keep the Zoom session short, before the energy is lost. End with a round of “Next Year in….” hopeful wishes.
  3. Then Zoom In: No matter who is with you at your actual seder table, that is the place to give most of your focus on seder night. Young families should make sure to create their own intimate seder experience with the parents and children around the table. You can always check back in with grandparents for tips on where to find the afikoman. And for older couples without the extended family, use the time to share old Passover stories from your childhood home, or recall traditions that might have been forgotten over the years. In between reading the Passover Haggadah, you can quiz each other about seders past.
  4. Feel Together Despite the Distance: Families that had meant to celebrate together can still create a connected seder. Serve the same menu, set the table in similar ways, sing the same sounds. Call your parents or relatives to learn those family tunes, recipes and jokes without which the seder is simply not the same. Prepare a printable Haggadah for those who are alone this year — with pictures, blessings and ideas from the rest of the family so they feel connected. Send each other pictures of your various tables. Call before the seder to hear how they are doing, and call afterwards to hear how it went.
  5. How Is This Night Different? The Talmud encourages us to make each Passover seder unique, connected and relevant to the lived experience and interests of its participants. The coronavirus seder shines a new light on many age old Passover traditions, and presents a great way to engage children of all ages. Hand-washing and Plagues never felt more relevant. But get creative: challenge your children to create a coronovirus seder plate — with all the accoutrements required to one day tell their children about this strange night. Make a list of Ma Nishtana — What’s different this year? Create a midrash on the Four Children and their responses to COVID-19. Or create a song to name all the things you are thankful for despite this crises.
  6. Don’t Forget Those in Need: The Seder opens with a declaration that “All who are in need should come and join”. It might be harder for us to invite guests this year, but this Passover more than ever is a time to help fulfil the needs of those in our families, communities and cities. Discuss with those at your table how we can open doors for those in need, or consider where to donate money that otherwise would have gone on travel expenses or gifts for hosts.

We are used to Passover night being a night of joyous liberation. But the first seder night in Egypt was truly a night of danger and trepidation. God and Moses commanded families to stay inside and share an intimate meal, expressing their faith that family and ritual would serve as safeguards, so that their homes would indeed be passed-over.

As we huddle in our homes this Passover night, the story of the Exodus will take on new meanings. We have faith that we will make it out of this narrow space. But in order to embark on that journey in the future, on this night we must stick to the safety of home and family, and anchor ourselves in tradition and creativity, so that we can soon embark again on the road to a better, healthier reality. This year — physically distant, next year — healthily together.

Noam Zion and Rabbi Mishael Zion are father and son. Noam is co-author of “A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah” and together they wrote “HaLaila Hazeh: The Israeli Haggadah” and “A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices.” A free PDF version of “A Different Night” and a “Coronavirus Passover Companion” are available at haggadahsrus.com.

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