Shayna Golkow
Shayna Golkow
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How can this Passover be different from all others – even last year’s?

Zoom seders are back. But this time, we are already experts in homemade rituals. We've even discovered some benefits to a virtual gathering
In this April 8, 2020, photo, Tali Arbel and her family and friends from other places are pictured on a New York computer screen during a virtual Seder for Passover. (AP Photo/Tali Arbel)
In this April 8, 2020, photo, Tali Arbel and her family and friends from other places are pictured on a New York computer screen during a virtual Seder for Passover. (AP Photo/Tali Arbel)

Last year, as we sat down to our virtual seders, we naively believed that no other Passover would be like that one — on Zoom, isolated from our usual communities. A year later, we have made our way around the calendar, arriving again at Passover, the first major Jewish holiday we are experiencing in isolation for the second time. We ask ourselves, how do we make this Passover different from last Passover? In the spirit of the four questions, here are four reasons why this Passover is particularly well-positioned to allow us to celebrate at home creatively:

On all other holidays, we rely on synagogues, but on this holiday, we celebrate at home.

Of all holidays to challenge us in a pandemic, Passover presents a unique opportunity, as the Jewish holiday most associated with the home, even in non-pandemic times. On most holidays, individuals do not feel the need to create personalized traditions and rituals. You show up in synagogue and while rabbis hope that you will find your own meaning in our services and programs, the expectation is often that the ritual-creating can be left to clergy and educators.

Passover is the exception. Synagogues provide Passover services and programs, but the most exciting and most widely practiced rituals take place in the home. Regardless of COVID-19, Passover is the most home-based holiday in our tradition.

On all other Passovers, we can rely on friends and family to craft rituals for us, but on this Passover, we must create it ourselves.

Even though Passover is so home-centric, many of us typically rely on our family and friends to create rituals for us. Attending seders at other people’s homes is a beautiful tradition. Seders bring families, friends, and sometimes even strangers together in pursuit of Jewish celebration. But this year, we cannot rely solely on those seders, because they will not take place in person. Without that crutch, we have a unique opportunity: create our own Passover rituals.

Create a bedikat hametz (search for leavened bread) scavenger hunt around the house. Write your own family Haggadah or part of the Haggadah. Play charades with characters and scenes from the Passover story, or create a trivia game. Come up with discussion questions that apply to the Exodus and our world today. Craft a ritual for clearing out your “spiritual hametz,” anything personal that is weighing you down this year. Make Passover-themed art, and use it to decorate your home or seder table. Get creative!

On all other Passovers, we have seders in person, but on this Passover, we gather on Zoom.

All of that creativity need not take the place of gathering on Zoom with your family and friends! Get together with your usual Passover group, or branch out now that physical location is no barrier. You might even be able to take advantage of the Zoom format to try something new. Change your Zoom background for each step of the seder. Use breakout rooms to allow for small-group discussions. Share videos of scenes from The Prince of Egypt to inspire conversation. Try out multiple seders in different time zones.

Creating your own ritual and having a Zoom seder with others outside your household are not mutually exclusive. They complement one another.

On all other Passovers, creating new traditions and rituals can seem overwhelming, but on this Passover, we are already ritual experts.

The idea of building your own ritual can seem daunting, but what you may not realize is that over the past year, you have become a ritual expert. That walk you take at the end of your work-from-home day, that bread you bake every Friday, or that phone call you to make to a friend each Sunday afternoon are all rituals, and you created them. Without the imposed structure of a commute, an in-person job, social outings, and weekend activities, we would feel lost without something to ground us, something to anchor us in the present moment. That something is ritual. Think through what you did over the past week, and you will identify your own personal rituals.

The word “ritual” sounds intimidating, like something only clergy would know how to create. That is not true. Whether you label it a ritual or not, you have been creating and performing rituals all year in an effort to keep track of the days in a week and hours in a day. All of us are now experts of pandemic rituals.

Creating a Jewish ritual does not have to be any harder than creating a pandemic ritual. Ask yourself: What are the elements of Passover that are most meaningful to you? What is something you have always wanted to try on Passover that you never have before? 2021 is your year.

How is this Passover different from the last Passover? Last year, we were novices, wandering in the desert of quarantine. This year, we are free – free to take hold of our own Passover experiences, customizing them and making them personally resonant. This year, we are ritual experts.

About the Author
Rabbi Shayna Golkow is the Second Rabbi at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA.
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