Next Year, in Public: Celebrating Passover During COVID-19 Quarantine
How to have a seder when we can’t get together? Here’s how to do it in Philly.
As spring comes, we gather around for seder to celebrate renewal, resilience, family, and freedom. As the ritual goes, the youngest at the table asks, “How is this night different from all other nights?” This year, that question is easy to answer. As we drink wine, sing songs, eat matzah, and recall the 10 Plagues, we are all separated by a modern plague.
Every seder, we tell the story of slavery in Egypt and read “As we celebrate here, we join with our people everywhere…. Now we are still in bonds, next year may we all be free.” The history of Judaism has profound traumas and great joys, and these same words take on new, personal meaning across historical contexts. But the connection to family not just in our home but around the world—and the hope that we can transcend our present hardship—are always part of it. How can we keep this alive when we cannot even get together?
Safety and law prevent us from traveling to celebrate seder with extended family. But we are living in an unprecedented time—both the threat of worldwide coronavirus pandemic and the height of technology connect us more than ever. In light of these unique circumstances, the Rabbinical Assembly has commented that although use of technology is generally prohibited during holy days, videoconferencing such as Zoom is permitted this year to allow families to celebrate together while staying safe.
So, dig out your own seder plate—or have the kids make one—and settle on the same Haggadah to make things go smoother. You can find many different versions to order (or even make your own custom one online), the important thing is that everyone has the same, so you can read along easier. You can designate a leader for the whole thing (or for each part) in advance if you really want to be organized about it.
Those of us who are new to working from home or virtual learning during this crisis have probably come to realize that it can often be difficult for many people to do something together online. There are time lags, people talk over each other, attention spans differ. You know your group best, so if an entire seder might just be too much to ask of everyone, cut it down to the minimum; or maybe pick a favorite part or even just a special song to schedule for your virtual visit and have the rest of the seder on your own with your household. The important thing is that you still have some family time and check in with each other to share the celebration.
At the same time, you can make connection in other ways. Maybe everyone has a favorite recipe to send in advance, and everyone can (attempt to) make each other’s so that everyone’s table has the same special dishes.
Look up fun printable Passover-themed crafts for the kids and send them around to your group so everyone can have the same ones to play with—Plague Puppets, anyone? For the older kids and adults, maybe even send out some discussion questions. With this year’s strange parallels, they practically write themselves.
If you want to take it in a different direction for one or both of your seders, many local synagogues are also hosting virtual seder events. The National Museum of American Jewish History is also holding its annual Freedom Seder, only this year it is online on April 6 at 6:30 pm. Inspired by the original 1969 Freedom Seder, where hundreds of people of all backgrounds gathered to explore and celebrate freedom in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, this event includes stories, performances, and a community exploration of freedom in America today.
Most local supermarkets have a kosher for Passover section, including lots of matzah! But if you want to make things a little easier, we found some local places doing Passover catering menus.
Schlesinger’s in Rittenhouse has full meal options—from gefilte fish to macaroons! Call to place your order in advance. Of course, if you just want a little help, you can always order their fantastic matzo ball soup (and other a la carte options) anytime for delivery!
If you’re looking for special treats that are kosher for Passover, Essen Bakery has a selection including flourless chocolate cake, homemade matzah, macaroons, and more. These also must be ordered in advance.
For our friends on the Main Line, A la Karte Catering always has fully kosher catering that you can order for curbside pickup or delivery, and they of course have a Passover menu ready. The Sweet Trading Company is also kosher and is offering free delivery of its chocolate goodies. If you’re not strictly kosher, our favorite matzo ball soup on the Main Line is definitely from Hymie’s, which continues to offer both delivery and takeout.
More Family Fun
To prep for seder, join a fun virtual sing-along or two! On April 5 and 12 at 11 am, Music Monkey Jungle will be live on Facebook, with original Passover-themed songs like “Matzoh CHA CHA CHA” and “The Frog Song,” dances, and games that help you celebrate! Speaking of which, you can listen to their Kinderlach Rock Passover songs anytime on YouTube or streaming services.
PlayArts is also leading a Passover Sing-Along with Congregation Rodeph Shalom on April 5 at 10 am via Zoom. Sing songs and learn the story of Passover from the comfort of your home! And the next day, join PJ Library for a Passover sing-along and storytime for kids ages 7 and younger over Facebook Live.
Every year at seder, we sing the words “Next year, in Jerusalem.” Here’s hoping that wherever we find ourselves next year, we are again able to see family in person, hug our loved ones close, and be safe and healthy.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.