DANVERS – Beginning Saturday at sundown, Jews will be celebrating their second consecutive Passover of the coronavirus pandemic, a plague that makes it dangerous to gather inside around the Seder table in large numbers.
Last year, Jews observed the exodus from Egypt amid the uncertainty of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders; store, office, and restaurant closings; recommendations to stay socially distant; and spikes in cases of people becoming sickened, hospitalized, and dying from COVID-19.
This year, while many families will again be gathering around the laptop on Zoom, there is a feeling of hope, some local Jewish families say. There’s a sense that next year, everyone will be able to gather for the Seder.
That’s the case of Erica Ferraro of Danvers, a study manager for a Cambridge biotech whose interfaith family consists of her husband, John, who works as a high school teacher in Boston, and her two children, Isaac, 8, and Rebekah, 5. The family attends Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.
“Before the pandemic, we would celebrate two Seders,” Ferraro said, “one at my mother’s house and we would host one.” Her mother, Meryl (Siegel) Smith, lives in Quincy and grew up in Revere.
The family’s typical Seder would be a meal of roast chicken, a salmon dish, and a charoset of apples and walnuts. Anywhere from 10 to 17 family members would gather, reciting a page from the Haggadah around the table.
“Passover 2020 was on Zoom,” Ferraro said. But there was a silver lining: On the first night, they were able to Zoom along with the Seder of the Jack Satter House senior apartment complex on Revere Beach to be with Ferraro’s grandmother. They were joined online by Ferraro’s aunt and mother.
“My children, as the youngest [participants], were able to read ‘The Four Questions,’” Ferraro said. Their second night Seder on Zoom also included her mother, aunt, and grandmother.
“On the one hand, it was hard because it wasn’t a giant table that I was used to … on the other hand, my grandmother was incredibly proud that her grandchildren were part of her community,” she said.
This Passover season will be especially poignant because her grandmother, Audrey (Simons) Siegel, died on Feb. 28 at age 88, though not from COVID-19.
On Saturday evening, the family again plans to hold a Seder on Zoom with her immediate family gathering for traditional readings and the meal. “My kids are the biggest motivator,” she said of wanting to make sure they have a Seder this year.
For Tammy Weiss of Peabody, the saying isn’t just “next year in Israel.” For her, it’s next year, normalcy.
“I just want to see people and be able to hug people,” said Weiss, who also goes to B’nai Abraham. Her husband, Ben, works as a marketing manager and she works as a physical therapy assistant. The couple are raising two children, Annabelle, 10, a fourth grader at Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead, and Rebecca, 6, a first grader at the McCarthy School in Peabody.
“Last year, we had my parents over because they were taking care of the kids, anyway,” said Weiss. It was strange to have so few people around the table, she said. There is usually 20 people in the house for Passover, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends.
The table would be filled with her mother’s homemade chicken matzo ball soup, brisket and chicken, and side dishes including an apple matzo kugel, followed by cakes and chocolate-covered matzo. Her father would hide the afikoman for the kids to find.
“He hides it really well,” said Weiss, and because he was part of the family Seder last year, they were able to preserve this little bit of tradition. They also took part in some of their temple’s virtual offerings and spent time with family on Zoom.
“So, this year, we are still keeping it quiet,” Weiss said. Her parents have had their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and her husband plans to get his two days before Passover.
“Let’s see if my little one will read ‘The Four Questions’ in English,” Weiss said of the service. They do not plan on having anyone outside their family over because her older daughter would have to quarantine for five days before returning to school. The family is thankful the vaccines are here and the hope is next year everyone can be together.
“Next year, hopefully, we will be back to normal,” she said.
In addition to the prophet Elijah, last year’s special guest at the Seder table of Barbara Rosenstroch and her husband, George Gammel, in Marblehead was a Lego Duplo pharaoh case with Legos inside she bought in 2001.
Her children, Joanna Gammel, 31, of Brighton, and Dr. Jonathan Gammel, 29, of Longmeadow, participated on Zoom.
Rosenstroch, a vice president at Temple Sinai in Marblehead, tells the story about how she acquired her pharaoh in 2001. It was before Passover when Joanna had her appendix removed. Rosenstroch said she had never prepared a Seder before, because they were accustomed to visiting her mother in Brooklyn. But it was advised her daughter – who was in Salem Hospital at the time – not travel far, so Rosenstroch rushed to the store to buy a set of meat dishes, made by Corelle and aptly called “Desert Sand.” She was looking for an afikoman prize in the store.
“I see this box of Legos with pharaoh on it,” she said of the set that contains figurines of a mummy and archeologist that has become the centerpiece of their family Seder ever since. “It was just luck,” she said of the find.
Of last year’s Passover, Rosenstroch said: “It was weird.”
She decided to make food for her daughter, who lives relatively close by. They arranged for Rosenstroch to leave it outside by the door. When her daughter arrived in Marblehead to retrieve it, she rang the bell, but Rosenstroch found no one was there when she brought out the meal. Then, she noticed her daughter was at the end of the driveway.
“Just drop the food and close the door,” Rosenstroch said her daughter instructed. So, besides pharaoh and a cup of wine for Elijah, they set up empty seats where their grown children would have sat.
Rosenstroch, who is 66, and her husband, who is 68, were scheduled to get vaccinated on Friday, March 19, by Mass General Brigham in Somerville, she said. So that means this year, her daughter and son will be around the table, along with her mother, who also has been vaccinated.
“I think next year we will invite more people and hopefully we’ll be back to normal,” she said.