Home Living Jewish More corona-seder ideas for first-time leaders (and veterans, too)

More corona-seder ideas for first-time leaders (and veterans, too)

A seder plate. (Judah Gross/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Contrary to what the good folks at the Washington Examiner may believe, Passover has not been “cancelled“ this year. Certainly, plans and traditions have been disrupted, and families and friends are being put through a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime test. But this coming Wednesday night, Jews everywhere will gather around the seder table – either in reduced numbers or perhaps in solitude – and will still talk about the significance of plagues and freedom.

As I did last time, I would like to share some more resources to help make this year’s seder meaningful.

Let’s start by putting things in perspective as Alana Newhouse does in a lovely piece in The New York Times. “As I write this, I am looking at a heart-stopping picture of five people baking matzo in 1943, in a secret oven they built beneath the Lodz ghetto. These were Jews made slaves again in modern times, insisting on celebrating their God-given right to freedom even as they were being denied their earthly equivalent. But what I really can’t get over is the smile on the face of one of the women. There it is, again, still: the joy and the sacrifice. It is the smile of someone who knows she is doing something miraculous by making Passover her own.”

“Our circumstances are much less dire than hers,” writes Newhouse, “but our task this year is the same.”

If you’ve always relied on your Zeydie (or your kids) to lead the seder, you’re not alone. If this is your first time, Jonathan Leener has got your back with ten Seder tips for Passover in the coronavirus era. A sampling:

  • Clearly define your goals: Do you want to read every single word in the Haggadah? Maybe you just want people to feel inspired or more connected after. It’s critical you have a destination before you begin your seder journey. On the other hand…
  • Be flexible: You can plan and plan, but the seder will demand improvisation no matter what. Always have a pulse of the seder.
  • Make it relevant: The seder should not be dominated by making connections of the virus to the Exodus story but it does need to be addressed in some capacity. Has the virus changed our relationship to the ten plagues?

Let’s back up a bit. One of the focal points of any seder – and this year should be no different – is Shulchan Orech (or in contemporary terms, “When to we eat?”) This can certainly pose a challenge this year as customary ingredients may not be readily available or people may be prudent about venturing out to shop. Chabad.org has put together some recommendations for Cooking for Passover with No Specialty Ingredients. What’s on their menu? Chicken Soup with Egg Noodles, Tangy Sweet Onion Salad Dressing, Hazelnut Banana “Nice Cream”, and Easy Four-Ingredient Brisket: with onions, carrots, parsnip, brisket and red wine. (Sounds tasty but isn’t that five ingredients?)

Shannon Sarna continues the food theme with her Passover-friendly Coronavirus Crisis Recipes. In a novel approach, Sarna provides recipes based on key ingredients you may have kicking around your kitchen. For example:

  • If you have matzah:  make Matzah brei, Matzah mac & cheese, Matzah tuna melt
  • If you have eggs: make Egg salad, Pashtida, Quiche with veggie and potato crust
  • If you have cauliflower: make Cauliflower steaks, Cauliflower kugel, Cauliflower bialys

Sarna adds this level-headed advice. “Passover is about our history and how we translate the lessons of our exodus and freedom for the world today. If you can, focus less on food and more about the meaning, at least just for this year — I think it will be less stressful and more purposeful. Next year you can go back to being nutty about all the food stuff.”

“The coronavirus, like an uninvited guest reminiscent of the biblical plagues of the Exodus, will force the most observed annual Jewish ritual experience, the seder, to be practiced very differently,” writes the American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi Noam Marans, at Fox News. The AJC has produced a two-page insert which includes a responsive reading for this year’s seder:

As we fill our four cups of wine, we pray for a time when our cups will yet again be over flowing.

   As we wash our hands, we affirm our role in protecting ourselves and others. …

As we imagine our own redemption from Egypt, we aspire to be free.

   As we sing Dayenu, we beseech, may our efforts to combat this pandemic be enough…

As we enjoy the haroset, we remember the sweetness which awaits us.

   As we search for the afikomen, we pray to be connected to our missing pieces.

As we welcome Elijah, we pray for redemption.

   As we sing songs of praise, we remain grateful for all of God’s gifts.

For years, Haggadot.com has been the go-to site for people who want to share their thoughts on the seder, glean what others have contributed and build and print their own, personalized Haggadah (all for free). I predict that this year the site will be more popular than ever. When I last checked, over 80 virus-related Haggadah elements had been uploaded to the site.

Some are irreverent: there’s a photo of a Purell bottle which you can insert into your Haggadah at the traditional hand-washing point.

Some are playful (but with a bite) like David Wolfberg’s riff on a Haggadah favourite, Had Gadya:

One little bat, one little bat

…Then came the blame

for the epidemic

despite the cops

who gagged the doc

who saw the bug

that got the guy

who ate the snake

that bit the bat

or pangolin

my father bought for two zuzim

One little bat, one little bat

And most contributions are heartfelt:

“The Nirtzah marks the conclusion of the seder. At this time, we normally look forward to the future and offer a hope that ‘Next year, we will be in Jerusalem.’ This year, with the plague of Corona/COVID-19, we might offer an extra prayer. ‘Next year, not just in Jerusalem, but also in person, together with our loved ones.’”

Have a kosher, happy and healthy Passover.