So how was last year’s Seder different from all other Seders?
Before you light this year’s candles and begin partaking in a virtual festive meal (courtesy of a delivered Seder In-A-Box perhaps), note that above I’ve used the alternative translation of “How different” rather than “Why is this night different?” A year after the pandemic lockdowns began, followed by untold loss and heartbreak due to COVID-19, everyone knows the why all too well.
But we didn’t for Passover 5780, and with the reality of the pandemic then just sinking in, we greeted it with levity – as if we weren’t the ones getting sick. Elbow bumps were cool, and after first sporting a construction respirator I found in my tool chest to both impress and scare fellow shoppers on my weekly supermarket run, I settled on a kippah with elastic ear bands sewn on to solve the PPE shortage. My wife’s brother in Taiwan eventually saved us with a CARE package of that country’s NIOSH-equivalent masks.
We live in Minnesota and my daughter Erin and her brood live in Marblehead. My grandtwins were born in 2013, and since then I had been making regular week-long visits once or twice a quarter. That included about half of all their Passovers.
But not this time, and it wasn’t just Zayde halfway across the country who wouldn’t be visiting. Their other grandparents and cousins in Salem and Swampscott wouldn’t be in person for Passover, either.
The solution? A virtual seder – and why not? We’d already been video chatting whenever the twins had a drawing or achievement to share. I had Zoom experience with a remote client well before the platform became a public health necessity. Plus, we imagined, we’d have a whole video record of it.
Or so we thought.
“What platform did we use?” I asked Erin when searching for it in my phone the other day. “FaceTime? Messenger? And did it keep a copy?”
“I don’t think it did,” she replied, “but I might have some stills.”
She found them, and they weren’t great. But they were an accurate reflection of what occurred. We didn’t start on time – or everyone at the same time. As has now become expected with any virtual gathering, we spent the first 15 minutes trying to solve connection and muting issues.
Syncing was a new thing, too. If we thought everyone was going to neatly say their part going from person-to-person at each table, household-to-household, that didn’t work, either. Realizing it, we just honed in on doling out the Four Questions among the children with everyone else muted.
Done! That in itself was dayenu – good enough because, again, singing together didn’t come off that well. Remember: Professional musicians were just then coming in from the road and only beginning to consider virtual concerts. Cleanfeed hadn’t been perfected or widely marketed yet.
I did get everyone’s attention for Elijah’s Cup, however, which was a good thing because I put a lot of work into it. I had placed a patio table on the lawn, marking off six feet from our front door. It held a bottle of wine, a glass and a napkin. (In retrospect, I should have included wipes.)
Elijah didn’t arrive but the wind did. After I took his offering back into the house, a gust blew the table over. Alas, like most divine interventions, it was not caught on camera.
I think I was chasing it down when the kids began searching for the afikoman, so I missed it, though a picture posted later seems to indicate they found it after the cameras were off. Whatever happened, the kids had a good time with it and the whole celebration. So what if it wasn’t the most organized or coordinated. From their point of view, is it ever?
This year, there are numerous online Seder aids – from the Reconstructionist “Virtual Passover Box” to Reform Judaism’s “Next Year in Jerusalem” Zoom background to Chabad’s online tool for sales of chametz to non-Jews (March 26 is the deadline). Those refinements should bring more order to any virtual Seder.
As for last year’s, my son-in-law Gene summed it up best.
“This was fun,” he texted then. “I hope we never have to do it again. Stay safe and Chag Sameach.”