Matthew Lipman

Tips for a Welcoming Zoom Seder

In “normal” years, a highlight of our extended family seder is when my brother in law Dan dresses up as an Eliyahu Hanavi-themed character. He sports a different costume each year, surprising and delighting the kids (okay, and the adults too!) Previous highlights have included a full cow outfit (Eliyamoooo HaNavi) and a Hawain Hula girl (Eliyahula HaNavi). Sadly, Uncle Dan’s variations of Eliyahu HaNavi will be missed at the seder this year but we will do our best to welcome… EliyaZOOM HaNavi. 

EliyaZOOM HaNavi will be a new guest for many of us this year, whether it’s to our seder itself or to our pre-seder seder. He will be very busy this year keeping families and friends connected and celebrating together, even when we cannot be connected physically. 

Many people have become recent devotees of Zoom, attending online Kabbalat Shabbat groups, yoga lessons, baking demonstrations, book readings, and every other imaginable use for this powerful conferencing platform. While many more people are now attending these types of sessions, fewer are comfortable harnessing the technology for themselves. As an educator, I have seen all of my classes move from in-person to online forums. I have had to learn new strategies and platforms in order to maintain student engagement. Seeing as seder is the night when the number four takes such a central role in proceedings, here are four tips to maximise your visit from EliyaZOOM HaNavi: 

  1. Guests: A regular in-person seder has two obvious limitations. The number of invitees has to be limited due to space considerations, and not everyone is able to travel to join family who live in different cities, countries or even continents. Zoom does not have such limitations. It is a wonderful opportunity to include people who on a regular year may not have been able to join us. This year our Zoom pre-seder gathering will bring together people in Israel, England, and on both coasts of the United States. We will be joined by grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends with whom we have never before had the privilege of sharing a seder.  
  2. Backgrounds: Zoom allows you to upload a customizable background of any image that you wish. How about assigning each attending unit one of the ten plagues? Their task: attend the  Zoom seder with a relevant background. For example, one unit will arrive with a background picture of frogs, while somebody else enters in a hailstorm. . Here’s another idea: Before seder,  instruct all attendees to select a background that is in some way connected to Pesach. But keep your idea a secret! Everybody else has to guess the connection. This is a great way to involve kids, both prior to the seder (let them discuss and choose amongst themselves what your family’s background will be) and of course during the Zoom seder itself, as they guess why everyone else chose the background that they selected. 
  3. The chat function: In many family seders there is a lot of happy chatter and buzz. That is wonderful for the celebratory atmosphere but can be hard for people to follow the seder conversation.. The chat function on Zoom allows people to participate while still listening to other people and also not creating pandemonium. For example, if you’re guessing backgrounds (see #2 above), rather than having everyone shouting out their answers, tell them to  type into the chat until the correct answer comes out. The winning suggestion can then be announced vocally by the people who chose that background.
  4. The share screen function: Zoom allows people on the call to share their screen with everybody else. This could be a great year to watch a song or movie clip together and then use the chat feature to share reflections about it. (Hint: Remember to click the share computer volume option when you’re sharing your screen.) Think about  using one of the popular Pesach parody songs like Six13’s A Lion King Passover or The Maccabeats Dayenu. For those looking for a more serious conversation, the songs released recently by Hanan Ben Ari or Ishai Ribo could serve as great triggers. The share screen function could also be used to play a family game of Kahoot, an online quiz platform that allows users to play against each other even though they may be thousands of miles apart. It is an easy tool to use,great fun, and yet another way to involve the younger members of the seder.

The above are all pedagogical strategies utilizing Zoom. The Zoom site and YouTube are full of “how to” videos if you need help with the tech.

So…think about using Zoom to enhance your family gathering this year. However you choose to celebrate the festival this year, I wish you a Pesach of health and freedom. Freedom this year will inevitably feel different to many of us than in previous years. Here’s a silver lining – this year, we get to open the door for EliyaZOOM HaNavi like never before. May we all merit to welcome him with connections and spirit. And for next year’s version? Well, we’ll just have to ask Uncle Dan what he has in store for us then.

About the Author
Matthew Lipman is an Israel educator, a storyteller and a lover of the outdoors. He lives with his family in Modi'in and he is on a mission to share his love of Israel, Judaism and "dad jokes" with his wonderful children. He writes in a personal capacity.