Passover 2021: Ideas for a Unique Year

Last year, on Passover 2020/5780, we were adjusting to the narrowness (Passover reference!) of life during the pandemic. We pivoted (most over-used word of the last year!) onto Zoom and made unique Passover memories. This year, some of us will be in person, many of us will be celebrating with a hybrid of in-person and remote participants, and some of (sigh) are still isolated and on Zoom.

Here are my top three tips, resources on modern slavery customized for this year, and a brand-new exercise for Dayenu.

TOP THREE TIPS

  1. Let people know what to expect and what to prepare before the Holiday. What is the Zoom link for those attending remotely? What is the timeline? For those attending in person, is the host happy to receive potluck contributions? What is the plan for mask-wearing or physical distancing? Beyond these logistics, will you ask folks to prepare in some way? For example,
    • Please bring a quotation on freedom that speaks to you, and we will share these throughout the evening.
    •  We will ask everyone who is “the baby” in your family of origin to show a baby picture of yourself on screen and help young Zachary in reciting the Ma Nishtana this year.
    • We will be doing an online game to review the story of the Exodus. In order to participate, please access kahoot.it on a device different from the one you will Zoom in on for the Seder.
  1. If you are partly or fully on Zoom, make use of the platform to enhance engagement. Here are some specific features and suggestions:

 Share Screen. Use the Share Screen feature to show photographs or videos. Be sure to click “use computer sound” and “optimize for video” when sharing videos.

    • If you ask people to introduce a particular reading or activity at the Seder, you can invite them to screen share a photo about it. For example, for Arami Oved Avi (my ancestor was a wandering Aramean from Deuteronomy 26:5f, quoted in the Haggadah, a participant might share a photo of an ancestor who immigrated to the United States.
    • Together with the Passover Project of Free the Slaves, I created this five-minute video about modern slavery, suitable for screening at Zoom seders, to spark discussion, engagement, awareness, and solutions.
    • Last year, the musical group six13 created a five-minute music video for Vehi She’amda, with the refrain “our faith gives us strength to go on, to push through the darkness and reach the dawn.” It’s perfect for screening (again) this year, to review the difficulties of the last year and put them in context, even as we hopefully approach “the dawn” and deliverance.

Virtual Backgrounds. Incorporate virtual backgrounds as a surprise and/or for visual interest and commentary.

    • Select a fair-use picture of a frog to highlight the plagues.
    • Invite everyone to use a photo of spring as a virtual background. You will be amazed and delighted by the variety of images.

 Renaming. Use the Rename feature creatively.

  •  Ask folks to rename themselves as the figure whose courage they most admire in the Book of Exodus or Haggadah.
          • A host or moderator can lead a brief Bibliodrama exercise by asking one Miriam, one Moses, one Bitya, one Shifra, or one Rabbi Akiva to speak in the first person and explain how and why they were able to act bravely. The host or moderator can then “call” on another person who chose the same figure (or a different one) for input. Ask Miriam what she thinks of the cup that bears her name. Ask Moses if he feels hurt that he wasn’t mentioned in the Haggadah. Ask the midwives if they collaborated with any other Egyptian or Hebrew women.
          • If your group would not be comfortable with Bibliodrama, just notice the variety of figures chosen, and give one or two people the chance to share about why they chose the figure they did.
    • Per Rabbi Ita Paskind, assign different people the names of characters in Chad Gadya – and folks can then sing the appropriate words and/or make the appropriate sound effects for their characters.

Chat. Employ the chat for schmoozing – and also for commentary. With a large group, ask people to type responses in the chat to questions such as:

    • We just recited the four questions. What is another question you have? Please type your “5th question” about Passover or Passover themes into the chat, and our host will integrate as many of these questions as possible into the discussion over the rest of the Seder.
    • Many Passover symbols reflect both slavery and freedom. What is one symbol you would add to the Seder plate from this pandemic year – to reflect slavery, freedom, or both?

As a reminder, matzah is the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. Charoset has the sweetness of freedom in its taste and a reminder of the bitterness of slavery in its texture and appearance, which recall mortar connecting bricks. Salt water (representing tears) is paired with parsley (representing renewal and hope).

3. Introduce Passover topics that relate to how people experienced the last year. For example,

    • The word Mitzrayim (Egypt) means “the place of double narrowness” – referring to the two narrow strips of greenery on either side of the Nile River. While this describes the terrain, ancient Egypt was also a place of metaphysical constriction for the Hebrews and for their taskmasters. The experience of slavery in Egypt stifled our ancestors spiritually, even as it crushed them physically. The ancient Egyptians, caught in a web of their own making, were morally and spiritually stifled as oppressors. How was this past year constricting and narrow for you, and how was it expansive and freeing? How might the experiences and lessons of the last year help us to expand our freedom even more? Rev Martin Luther King Jr. taught, “A man hasn’t started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his existence to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
    •  How do the “Four Children” read in terms of the pandemic?
        •  The wise child can be understood as a science nerd or policy wonk. What are all the details? I want to know everything! Both the virtues and shadow side of this kind of wisdom have become apparent in the last year.
        • The wicked child can be understood as someone who is too alienated and perhaps too hurt and frightened to count him/her/their self as part of the community. “I’m out! It’s your pandemic. It’s not mine.”
        • The simple child just wants some clarity. What is this? What is being asked of me? Can I hug Grandma or not?
        • The one who does not know how to ask may be too overwhelmed by the crisis or too traumatized to even engage.

 These various readings tend to create a greater sense of empathy for each of the four children, since we can all relate to these different responses to the pandemic.

  • Toward the end of the Seder, we say, “Next year in Jerusalem – L’shana haba’ah biy’rushalayim.In a year when movement has been so curtailed, where do you want to travel – literally? What places do you find expanding and freeing? With what company do you wish to travel? Also, in light of the last year, what is your spiritual vision of a place you want to arrive to – whether as an individual, as a family, as the Jewish people, as Americans, or in the global community? 

RESOURCES ON SLAVERY IN THE 21st CENTURY TO SHARE & DISCUSS

Below are links to valuable resources on Judaism and slavery today, along with the 5-minute video mentioned above.

Passover Project flyer 2021 to distribute in hard copy or share and discuss on a Zoom screen.

Seder Starters – readings and activities for Seders that relate to human trafficking.

The Rabbinical Assembly’s one-pager on Understanding Human Trafficking and What You Can Do About It.

The Rabbinical Assembly’s one-pager on Jewish Sources and Resources on Human Trafficking.

You can make a donation as a member of the Jewish community to free today’s slaves at this link.

DAYENU EXERCISE

Introduction:

The Dayenu prayer says, “If God had given us Egyptian money as reparations but not split the Sea, it would have been enough for us.” And, “If God had split the Sea, but not led us through it on dry ground, it would have been enough for us.” Clearly, this is not so! It would not have been enough for us to gain our freedom or to be spared from oppression.

But it would and should have been enough for us to pause, note the miracle, and say thank you.

Exercise:

Generate a daisy-chain of Dayenu couplets around the table, with each person building on what the prior person said. For example:

If we had essential workers in grocery stores, but shortages in basic supplies, Dayenu.

If our supply chain caught up, but we didn’t yet understand the virus, Dayenu.

If we came to understand the virus better, but still did not have effective therapeutics, Dayenu.

If we had promising therapeutics, but no vaccine, Dayenu.

If we had the science to get vaccines, but insufficient manufacturing, Dayenu.

If we had enough manufacturing, but could not master distribution, Dayenu. Etc.

You can probably recall being at some of these stages – with redemption and deliverance partly delivered and partly unfulfilled. We were all happier, kinder, and better off when we said, “Thank you! I see the progress.” Complaining and worry did not help. “Dayah letzarah besha’ta. It’s enough (Dayah, the same root as Dayenu) to have worry in its own hour.” There is no utility in anticipating disaster, and there is a lot of blessing and utility in noting positive steps along the way, even before all our prayers have been answered.

What would be “enough” for you as life returns slowly back to “normal” or a “new normal”? What would cause you to pause, celebrate the progress, acknowledge what is yet to be accomplished, and say, “Thank you, God, for bringing us this far”?

May all of us leave behind constriction and embrace expansion this year!

About the Author
Debra Orenstein, rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel in Emerson, NJ, is an acclaimed teacher, author, and scholar-in-residence. She is editor of Lifecycles 1:Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones and Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life (Jewish Lights). A seventh generation rabbi, she was in the first rabbinical class at The Jewish Theological Seminary to include women. She earned a Certificate in Positive Psychology and teaches online at RabbiDebraOrenstein.com
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