'Ma Nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleylot?' How is this night different from all other nights? This year, it is not only about the Seder night being different. The way we celebrate that night will also differ considerably in an unprecedented way. Instead of joining our families, friends and communities in person, many of us will connect virtually with fellow Jews via videoconferencing in order to remember and (re)tell the story of our ancestors leaving Egypt. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth formulates it in one of his recent Divrei Torah: 'Ma Nishtana hashanah hazot mikol hashanim?' How is 'this year' different from all other years?
Hosting or participating in a virtual Seder requires preparation – mental preparation as well as preparation in terms of logistics - to set the atmosphere as we sit down and log on to Zoom with our Seder plates in front of us, along with our physical or virtual haggadot and ritual objects. That is why many IJCers got together recently on Zoom to discuss the “nuts & bolts” practicalities of having a Seder led by Ilana Sumka. The discussion lasted for about an hour and a half and proved to be very helpful in getting us all into the spirit of the holiday.
After an initial check-in that involved using just one word to describe our mindset during this period of confinement – which included adjectives such as “weird”, “challenging”, “stressful”, “recreative” and even “peaceful” – we got down to discussing a three-part questionnaire prepared by Ilana: choosing between hosting and participating a Seder, our individual kavannot (intention, purpose) fashioned by each one of us to prepare ourselves for celebrating Pesach under these unique circumstances, followed by some special questions.
We went through a list of items traditionally placed on a Seder plate and their substitutes (if it’s hard to get hold of horseradish, traditionally used as maror/bitter herb, why not use something else bitter especially endive/chicory, so easily available at all Belgian supermarkets?). We discussed various rituals and ritual objects associated with the Seder plus special features added over the years by various Progressive communities such as placing a Miriam’s Cup next to the traditional Cup of Elijah. In addition, a Seder preparation checklist meticulously compiled by Ilana - including various online resources - was immensely useful.
We Jews have always displayed a remarkable adaptability to ever-changing social and historical circumstances – a perfect blend of tradition and innovation. As we join each other this year on various virtual platforms, whether as hosts or participants, for a (re)telling of the eternal story, we keep alive in our hearts the hope of reuniting next year in Jerusalem!