As Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, founding Rabbi of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline explained, there’s a reason why Jewish people have been observing Passover annually for thousands of years.
"Passover is of course one of the central holidays of the Jewish calendar, because it talks about the formation of the Jewish people," he said.
The holiday is typically celebrated with a Seder, where the story of the Israelite's exodus from Egypt is retold, prayers are sung, family stories are passed down, and ceremonial foods are eaten — as is an accompanying feast.
"More Jews attend Seders than would attend high holiday services because it’s not done in the synagogue, it's done in the home," said Waldoks. "It’s really a quite important event. Particularly because it gathers people together."
But as the fight to beat back the spread of the coronavirus has intensified, gathering — even in our homes — has become risky business. And that stands to impact this centuries-long annual tradition in unprecedented ways.
"Passover’s always our busiest Jewish holiday," said Matthew Otten, General manager at Zaftig’s Delicatessen, a Brookline restaurant that’s specializes in Jewish-style food. They offer special catering this time of year, aimed at larger Seders of 15-20 people.
"We usually have anywhere from 80 to 100 orders going through," said Otten. "Right now, we’ve only got 12."
Nevertheless, Seders will be held in homes across the globe next week, though many won’t look like they usually do — or unfold quite the way they were expected to.
"We were really hoping to sit down with my husband’s parents, who live locally, and go through and really have Julian’s first formal Seder," said Brookline resident Rachel Wolf. Her son, Julian, is 3. His first formal Seder will now have to wait. Instead, Wolf, her husband and their two children will hold a far less-formal, scaled-back Seder at home.
"And, like, we may Zoom with some friends — just like to say hi and, like, have the kids like wave a piece of matzah," she said. "Because it’s so hard to get the kids to sit in front of Zoom anyways."
Ah, Zoom. The video platform that has quickly become ubiquitous for so many in recent weeks is also proving to be something of a lifeline for many Jewish people this Passover, even at the more conservative end of the spectrum.
"My parents don’t use electronics on Shabbat or, you know, the major holidays," said Lynn resident Eliza Katz of her Orthodox parents. She will be Zooming in for a formal Seder with her Orthodox parents next week
"They’re fine with [Zoom]," she said. "I think that’s sort of the understanding among many Orthodox families now that Zoom is sort of an acceptable practice just for this occasion."
Katz will be Zooming in for a formal Seder with her Orthodox parents next week. She thinks it will look and feel much the same, though she is now — for the first time — responsible for assembling her own Seder plate.
"I have to find a shank bone for the first time in my life," she said.
Still, for others, the notion of a virtual Seder does take the shine off things a bit.
"I look forward to Passover every year," said Cambridge resident Hannah Catzen. "It is this super collaborative thing that happens over a shared plate. And even though I’ve been invited to stuff over Zoom, I’m just not as excited this year."
Despite her disappointment, Cambridge resident Hannah Catzen says she’ll likely still attend a virtual Seder — or two. And even if it’s not the same, it’s better than nothing.
"There’s something incredibly Jewish about having to make it work," she said. "And especially sort of apropos for Passover."
Making it work is exactly what Dina Kraft will be doing from Israel where she now lives — to help keep a decades-long tradition back here in the US alive.
"My parents have been having a Seder at their house for the last 51 years," she said. "And for the first time it’s gonna be just the two of them."
Many years, 40 plus-people attend — Multiple generations of families and friends. And typically it is quite the production.
"We tell the Passover story through a series of skits," she said. "The plagues, to make it kind of fun for the kids, we have little plastic frogs flying around the room, Little white balls for hail, we use a red table cloth to symbolize the parting of the red sea."
Kraft won’t be there in person this year as planned, but she will attend the Seder on Zoom — as will some 20 others across multiple time zones.
Kraft remains upbeat about it, and about the coming holiday, despite the challenges. Afterall, she says, it’s a festival of freedom despite long odds.
"This is a Passover no one will ever forget." she said.
Indeed, for better or worse, one thing does seem clear. For many — here in Massachusetts and around the word — this Passover night promises to be different than all other Passover nights.