This Night Was Truly Different Than Other Nights

As the coronavirus continues to interrupt the natural cadences of our lives, we seem to cling even tighter to our traditions— the things that, under normal circumstances, would bring loved ones and friends together. Now, in the age of coronavirus, people are reconstructing and reconfiguring the events that traditionally mark each year the best they can, from birthdays to anniversaries to religious holidays. Last night, Jewish families observed the first night of Passover a little bit differently. This year, as most Americans are home in isolation, many Seders across the country went virtual.

Homemade matzah replaced the store-bought version, small Zoom squares replaced living, breathing relatives, and make-shift ceremonies temporarily replaced family traditions. One New York family, with loved ones stretched across the country in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, California, and Denver, even celebrated with a digital Haggadah, a guidebook containing the order, prayers, songs, and story of the Seder, that was shared with everyone at their virtual dinner.

Stuart Fleischmann, 63, in Hillsdale, N.Y., participated in a Zoom call with family across the U.S. They even created their own Haggadah for everyone to share virtually. / Courtesy of Stuart Fleischmann

One of the participants, Stuart Fleischmann, 63, in Hillsdale, N.Y., explained that experience via text. “We read, sang, laughed, and made fun of how everyone was facing the camera, looking at pets, and looking into Google for explanations of some of the service aspects, like why exactly do we leave a door open for Elijah.  All told, was in some ways one of the nicest Seders ever.”

The timing of this holiday couldn’t be more apt. Passover marks the “passing over” of the tenth and final plague from God, which afflicted first-born children in Egypt. Israelites marked their doors with lamb’s blood to protect their children, ensuring the deadly plague “passed over” their house. While coronavirus is neither biblical nor prevented by the smearing of lamb’s blood, it does feel, in many ways, like a test— of will, of mental strength, and of the ability to carry on in the face of adversity.

Jewish families around the globe marked the holiday in a different way this year, by necessity. And many in isolation celebrated by themselves or with simpler dinners set for two rather than a dozen or more. Overall, from reports on social media the day after, it became clear that despite the challenges of celebrating virtually, many were still able to keep the spirit of Passover alive.

Stuart Fleischmann, 63, in Hillsdale, N.Y., participated in a Zoom call with family across the U.S. They even created their own Haggadah for everyone to share virtually. / Courtesy of Stuart Fleischmann

Jude Cohen, 25, who lives in New York but is currently quarantining in Charlotte, N.C., with her family wrote the following reflection on their new, virtual Seder: 

“My family usually hosts 30-40 people gathered around a beautifully adorned table. This year, our 35 guests set their own tables, including an extra place for a laptop. Family and friends ages 1-87 joined together in answering the common refrain we ask each year, ‘why is this night different from all other nights.’ … This night was different because it was my grandfather’s first time using Zoom; my niece took her first steps; my great aunt was able to join us from California having only to cross her living room as opposed to crossing the country; and we were able to include multiple time zones, generations, and countries in the power of a shared experience via technology.

We end the Passover Seder every year reciting the words, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ Last night, we ended by saying. ‘Next year in Jerusalem. Or at least in person.'”

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