As this modern-day plague reaches biblical proportions, a virtual seder has its virtues. Just as congregations, schools and offices assemble online, we can celebrate via videoconference. Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts and other apps can enable people to share the holiday safely and meaningfully …”
Passover is going to feel very different this year, for regrettable reasons. But we here at JPray.org, your one-stop shop for new Jewish rituals, are here to help. We will walk you through all the steps for your first “Virtual Seder,” from how to set up Zoom to how to kick people out of the “meeting” without seeming rude.
First, let’s recall everything you will need on the seder table: shank bone, egg, bitter herbs, karpas, charoset, Elijah’s Cup, a Windows or Apple computer with speakers and a microphone and, if you want to be especially stringent, a Logitech HD ConferenceCam.
Next, let’s think about the invite list. Why is this night’s guest list different from all the other guest lists? On all other seder nights it’s you, the kids, Grandma, Uncle Mike and Aunt Carol and their kids, and that couple from Grandma’s old neighborhood that have been coming for the past 20 years and no one really remembers why. On this night, however, Grandma is sheltering in place, Mike and Carol are under quarantine, and that couple are apparently emergency room physicians who will be on call during the holiday. Who knew?
Since it’s just you and the kids, set up your laptop at the head of the table. According to halacha, the virtual guests deserve a place of honor; and according to my user manual, that’s the best place in the house to get WiFi. Consult your local techie.
We recommend setting up a plate, silverware, and wine glass in front of the screen. Depending on the quality of your in-screen camera, these do not have to be your best china or silverware. Or even very clean. But why take any chances?
As the start of the seder approaches, your guests should be joining the videoconference via the invitation you sent earlier. In theory. In practice this is the time to call and remind Grandma, email Carol and Mike, and text each of their kids.
At this point, all of your guests should be visible on screen. You should also be able to see inside Grandma’s ear. Gently remind her to take the device away from her head and look into the camera. Ah, there we are!
According to our council of rabbinical sages, this also is the time for reminding people of one of the important mitzvot of this Virtual Seder: “Please put yourself on mute.” This is especially important if you have multiple guests on Zoom. This injunction may also be followed by the important reminder, “Mute is the little microphone in the corner of the screen. Just click it. The microphone. Carol, the microphone!”
And let us say, Amen.
Now the leader of the seder raises the wine glass, but not before someone on the screen says “Louder” and someone else tries raising an important point without unmuting themselves.
Normally at this time someone walks around with a jug and dishtowel and everyone ceremoniously washes their hands. This year, everyone will be ushered into the utility room where you have set up a bottle of Sloan ESD-231 Antibacterial Hand Soap in the 800 ml Bottle and a stack of Cosmoss Disposable US Grade 100% Cotton Single-Use Linen Hand Towels. This hand-washing is known as urchatz, which is Aramaic for “20 seconds, at least.”
As you break the first matzah, please try to remember that this was the bread of affliction that the Israelites ate as they fled Egypt. Do NOT envy the Israelites, who had to endure hardships under a cruel Pharaoh but at least they got fresh air and they could get together with their fellow Hebrews once in a while, even if just to make bricks. This is not the message of Passover!
Next, the youngest person at the table recites The Four Questions. You may supplement the traditional four questions with any of your own. This year’s suggestions include, “When can we go back to work?” “Will this ever end?” “Let’s say I get a tickle in my throat, do I get the test or wait it out?” and “When did I become a math teacher? Home schooling sucks.”
The traditional seder asks us to drink four cups of wine. However, since you have already been doing this every night since the outbreak, you must now at least pretend it’s extra special.
Now you come to the recitation of the plagues that befell Egypt. You are free to note the irony, and maybe even feel for, the poor Egyptians in a way you never did before. After blinking back tears, continue in the Haggadah until you get to…
The Festive Meal. The serving of the meal should be accompanied with a recitation of the ordeal it took to buy Passover products while under lockdown. Do not forget to include the length of the line at the supermarket, the sanitary wipes you brought to wipe down the cart, and how hard it was for you to order curbside delivery from Shop-and-Drop.
The seder is nearly done. If you haven’t paid for the premium version of Zoom, your guests signed off hours ago. But in case they are still on, finish reciting the Birkat Hamazon and Hallel, raise your glass, and say, “Next year in Jerusalem. Or Long Branch. Or Spring Valley — anywhere but stuck at home!
Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor and chief of The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication. He served as NJJN editor for 13 years.