October 26, 2020

How is this year different from all other years?

By Amy Powell

The question, “how is this night different from all other nights?” takes on brand new meaning this Passover; nearly everything about this seder will be different from all other seders. Rather than celebrating our Exodus among friends, family –and even potentially strangers as the Haggadah encourages us to “let all who are hungry come and eat,” this year we are encouraged to celebrate alone.

Other years, we reflect on the 10 Plagues that occurred during the time of Pharoah, this year, we reckon with the real plague of Covid-19, ravaging communities around the world.

In this time of decreased trips to the store, shortages of all things except gefilte fish, we are learning of various rabbis relaxing hechshers and even restrictions on use of electronics for those who want to stream communal seders or Zoom with their family members.

To help you make the most of this strange moment, HBI has gathered a guide to some resources and readings.

How to Add Some Fun to a Strange Year

Did you ever wonder what comedian Lewis Black has to say about bitter herbs? Or, how Judy Gold’s annual dayyenu will explain this year, or want to hear Seth Herzog’s rendition of the 10 Plagues? The City Winery has you covered this Monday, April 6 with the Downtown Seder 2020. Yes, Cong. Jerry Nadler will be asking four important questions even though he won’t be the youngest and former Sen. Al Franken will be presenting from his shower. See the entire lineup of special music and commentary from The Lab Shul.

Do you need a Haggadah guide that pokes fun at the times we are in? Humorist Howard   Zaharoff, noting that Jews like to “find the humor”, published his Love in the Time of Coronavirus: Excerpts From a New Passover Haggadah in JewishBoston.com. Here you will find the seder re-explained with gems like, “Urchatz: We wash hands before opening a jar of Rokeach gefilte fish, since who knows who touched the jar before?” and “Maror: We eat bitter herbs to remind us that our portfolio declined 30% in the month of March.”

From Shalom Sesame, there is a riff on the afikomen,  Les Matzarables.

How to Conduct a Virtual Seder

Moment Magazine created a virtual seder guide, 2020 Seder Supplement “The Seder is Already Virtual: Reflections for a Ritual in Extraordinary Times” by Amy E. Schwartz.  The multi-denominational guide notes that it “draws on Moment’s popular “Ask the Rabbis” section, which includes rabbinical wisdom ranging from independent to Orthodox,” and includes “interviews with scholars and writers as well as articles and poems from the Moment archives.”

The URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) produced Digital Content to Enliven This Year’s Virtual Seder with downloadable haggadot, playlists, children’s activities, recipes, thought questions and more.

The Washington Post created some variations on traditional recipes that offer a bit more immune boosting powers in A Passover like no other: Embrace a more intimate celebration of the Jewish holiday.

Hagdadot.com has a variety of downloadable and DIY resources, but this year added more on conducting virtual seders. Their webinar, The Art of Virtual Gathering: Passover 2020, is available as are other items to satisfy a range of needs and interests.

UCSJ (United Synagogue Conservative Judaism) published Passover Resources with helpful guidelines for many of the rituals and extra resources for conducting virtual seders that include grandparents and others.

JewishBoston.com’s How to Have a Kid-Friendly, Meaningful Virtual Seder, includes ways to incorporate the seder’s themes of resilience.

Readings to Help Make Sense of it All

For those who need or want permission to have a mediocre seder without fancy cooking, without creativity, Rabbi Susan P. Fendrick gives permission in Go ahead, have a shvach seder published in The Times of Israel. 

In The 11th Plague: Passover During Coronavirus, The Forward.com gathered opinions from 20 influencers, offering commentaries on Passover this year.

Also in the Forward.com, Abigail Pogrebin, author of The Wondering Jew, had conversations with six rabbis to reflect on this year’s Passover in Passover therapy: Our holiday expert asked 6 rabbis to reflect on this very different year.

In New York Jewish Week and the JOFA Blog’s The First Ever Seder Was Held In Isolation, Miriam Lorie relates our current moment to ancient times

In the Lilith Blog, Between Purim and Passover, a Plague, Rayzel Raphael, relates the Passover, Purim and Yom Kippur themes to the reality of today’s Passover.

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI. 

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