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Leading A Virtual Seder: It Really Was Different…And Pretty Great

Some things were pretty similar. I woke up early and started to cook. I chopped fruit for charoset, while thinking about how I wanted to introduce the seder. I shaped matzoh balls and marveled when they fluffed up as they cooked. I made my mother’s pesadik muffins, thinking about all the years I would wake up to watch her do the same. The day felt like home and tradition. It felt like Passover.

And yet, it was all different, and not in the way our Haggadah asks, “How is this night different from all other nights?” Our Passover table, a modern ritualization of the altar at the Temple, looked like a television studio. Next to our seder plate sat two computers and a tablet--one to see both of us, one to manage technology, and one for the virtual haggadah we created. Above the seder plate, my husband, Rabbi Eric Abbott, rigged his phone so that people would be able to see the symbolism. As long as we sat still, and kept everything charging, all would be well.

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Neither of us, I nor my husband, were particularly looking forward to leading a virtual seder. Wouldn’t the substitution of a screen for physical family and friends render this holiday profane? How could we possibly encourage participation, have that “go-around-the-table-and-read” feel, when none of us were around the same table? How could this night possibly be like the Passover we imagine each and every year?

We spent days creating a virtual haggadah and troubleshooting these questions. As we did, the numbers for our 2239 Seder continued to climb. By Wednesday evening, we had 150 of the DMV’s twenties and thirties signed up to join in seder with us.

This year was different. And people wanted to connect more than ever. They wanted to feel home, tradition, and community more than ever. Jews were craving Passover, were craving ritual, in a different way.

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And so, we celebrated Passover. We had people introduce themselves in breakout rooms so that everyone knew at least three other people “at the table.” We used the chat box to share who we would want to invite to our Passover seder this year--Dr. Anthony Fauci was the clear winner here. One of our WHC families attended with their two young girls. They chanted the four questions beautifully, bringing youth and light to the service. We sang, we prayed, we drank four glasses of wine. We made Passover.

As we looked out onto these 150 faces, we realized that this night really was different. Yes, different from every other Passover we have ever celebrated, but also, different from every other night in quarantine and isolation. People dressed up--not just out of sweatpants but actually some dresses and ties! Tables were covered in tablecloths and nice dishes, even if they were only set for one. Faces were smiling. Mouths filled with matzah were cracking jokes. Eyes closed in moments of spirituality and prayer.

The night was different. And special. And holy.

Moadim L’Simcha. May the rest of these days of Passover bring us more joy and allow us to feel just a little bit different in this new world.

Click here to see a Facebook video that accompanied this blog post.