By the time the first night of Passover arrived, I was a near expert zoomer. I knew how to touch up my appearance, insert a cool background, and mute and unmute people in seconds. So, there we were, the four of us semi-quarantined, all lined up in front of my IPad, being “together” with others for a first night Seder. I know this is a bizarre reference point for the occasion, but here it is: I could not help recalling DaVinci’s the Last Supper, where they are all eating at a table facing the same direction, some leaning to the side. I could never suspend my disbelief at that painting because I always thought, “Who eats like that, all in a row facing no one?” Well, now I know, you eat like that at a Zoom Seder, when you have to all face the same direction to be seen by the digital camera.
Our Haggadah this year (from “Haggadah.com” of course) highlighted the contrasts in the Passover story, the contrasts of freedom and slavery, joy and pain, power and helplessness. I appreciated this theme because this year the contrasts of Passover seemed especially stark. Most of us here in WNC are really no less free than we were last year, yet our freedom is limited to our own socially distant households. Our technology empowers us to stay connected, to retain our traditions—however modified they must be—of gathering in community to celebrate holidays and Shabbat. We are physically distant by necessity, yet still try to draw close to each other by different means.
We celebrate our freedom on Passover, while remembering the slavery of our ancestors; at the same time, I cannot help but think of those people whose freedoms have been severely impacted by the pandemic, of those who live in small apartments, who may be self-isolating to protect their loved ones.
It is our tradition at Passover to recall the many generations that have come before us, each with their own retelling of the Passover story. Each generation has its own ideas, its own version of the Passover story. As a kid, in my house each year’s Seder seemed to have something new that wasn’t in the Haggadah the year before, often social justice-themed. I never imagined that I would ever be part of a fully virtual Seder.
As we have over many generations, we continue our traditions despite adversity. We still celebrated life and freedom at Passover, though that freedom may seem limited right now. We are used to gathering around a table to tell stories, old and new at Passover, finding new meanings in our shared history. We added our own special chapter for this year, more fraught and intense than any Passover in recent memory. But as I recalled our people’s story of Passover, I was reminded that the trials of this year will too become part of our shared past, that we will endure and continue our traditions, however they need to change with the times. We dream of the future, and say “next year, Jerusalem”; we also say, “next year, health, and hugs, and no more social distancing!”