Next week’s holidays will be very different for untold numbers of families. Those accustomed to large gatherings for Passover or Easter won’t be sitting around the table celebrating together because of the social distancing guidelines necessitated by the coronavirus.
But on Friday evening, members of the Hebrew Congregation of Somers will hold a model Seder via Zoom, the increasingly popular videoconferencing platform, that will connect dozens of congregants for an early Passover celebration.
There won’t be the festive meal that is part of the ritual service, but Rabbi Shoshana Leis said Friday’s Seder may have a deeper significance for those who participate because there will be more time for interactive discussion about the story of the holiday and its lessons.
“It’s like we’re living the Passover story in a way that I have never experienced in all my years,” said Leis. “By that I mean the story of getting down to the essentials. On Passover, we eat matzoh because we want to become our core self without the puffed-up airiness of bread. It’s sort of like our ego-less self. It’s like we’ve been flattened. We’re down to what matters the most.”
About seven fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders from the congregation’s Hebrew school will be leading the unconventional Seder. Other children who will be part of the Zoom call with their parents have been asked to gather some of its symbols.
There will also the search for the afikomen, one of the pieces of matzoh that is the dessert. The children will have the Seder plate and the participating families can also bring a snack as part of the festivity.
“We wanted to make it as easy as possible to participate, and since it’s before Passover we didn’t want them to have to make their own Seder plate,” Leis said. “So we just said come, bring some symbols of the 10 plagues, hide something that will be your afikomen and join us.”
Hebrew Congregation of Somers will be joined by members of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Keene, N.H. Leis said she was recently on a conference call with some of her colleagues in Judaism’s Reconstructionist movement when she mentioned that she and her members were conducting their model Seder via technology.
Since Purim on Mar. 8, the congregation has been holding its Shabbat services on Zoom when early concerns were surfacing locally that gatherings were spreading COVID-19.
Leis said the challenges presented by the virus are also a lesson for Passover, which includes reaching out to others who are hungry and inviting them in along with the spiritual hunger to reach people who are isolated.
There’s also the story of triumph over slavery, overcoming adversity and adapting as much as possible.
“We are not supposed to just learn about something in the past,” Leis said. “We are supposed to lift up the messages and the meaning and the values of what’s being expected of us in this time, what’s available to us, in that there’s a great redemption and transformation that is possible in this moment that we can reach for.”
Even after social distancing can be relaxed, the technology has opened up future possibilities to interact and share with congregations throughout the United States and abroad, Leis said. She has tuned in on Friday mornings recently to be part of a Jerusalem synagogue’s Friday night service.
The public is invited to join the model Seder Friday evening from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The link is https://zoom.us/j/2764536951.
For more information about the Hebrew Congregation of Somers, visit www.hebrewcongregationofsomers.org.