Hillel Offers Virtual Seder Advice

Every spring, Jewish people around the world celebrate Passover with their extended family; gathering for a communal meal and ritual known as the Seder that retells the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. This year, in the wake of a global pandemic, Jews are rethinking the way they celebrate Passover. How does one prepare for Passover in the age of social distancing and Covid-19?  

In order to help students and families looking for ideas, we asked Rabbi Benjamin Berger, Vice President for Jewish Education at Hillel International, for his insights.  

Q: Given the global crisis, extended families coming together to celebrate isn’t possible or advisable. So how are you and other families thinking about observing Passover this year?

A: The ethos of the Passover experience is about inviting people in. Going back to the very first Passovers in the time of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, it has always been a holiday of gathering. It’s one of the three times of the year that Jewish people, especially family and friends, gather to share meals and we open our doors to invite the hungry, the needy, to come join us. The current situation certainly upends the central theme of the holiday, but right now we need to accept that we just can’t do that right now, it’s just not safe for us to gather.  

I am proud to say that the rabbinic advice from Jewish leaders around the world has been this: We know how badly you want to be with all your family right now, but it’s not the safe thing to do. Rather, the Jewish ethic of choosing life over all other things should be at the forefront. It doesn’t mean that we are giving up on Passover, there are still many ways of celebrating the ritual and the joyousness of it, without compromising the health and welfare of our loved ones. Even in the most traditional Jewish homes in our society, I know people are thinking of creative ways to come together, to celebrate the taste of freedom, which is what the festival is all about. I think most importantly we are thinking about people’s mental health, as being physically separated during this holiday period can be so risky for people’s mental wellbeing. So, we are thinking of ways to mitigate that by finding ways to connect with one another – one of which is to celebrate through one-on-one video sessions, or virtual Seders. We are trying to lessen the sense of loneliness and isolation, the point being that we do have to be distant, but it doesn’t mean we have to be alone. I think that’s the message we should focus on spreading right now.  

Q:  People are grieving what’s happening in the world right now and grieving a tradition that feels changed or can’t be fulfilled in the way that is traditionally meaningful to them. What is something you’d say to them to lessen their sense of grief and still honor the celebration?  

A: What all of us can do right now is do our best. We need to recognize that, yes, these are not ideal circumstances, but this is also not the first hard Passover. Over the course of our history, hundreds and thousands of people have observed Passover in some very difficult moments. I think remembering that reminds us that our number one trait as humans is our resilience. We are a model of resilient human beings who have found structures, like the Seder, to live through the worst, and we’ve come out on the other end as stronger people for it. I am confident that we in this world will get through this, no matter how difficult the situation is right now, and we will need to rely upon our sources of wisdom, inspiration, and strength to do so.  

Q: What is the wisdom within the tradition and the story of Passover that the world can learn and draw strength from right now?  

A: Firstly, our notion of resilience. I think storytelling is one of the things that keeps people connected to one another, and especially now, as we are feeling afraid of what’s to come, I think we’ve to double down on the stories that offer us hope. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to dig back into the story of the Jewish people, for it reminds us of how resilient we are: that we have had hard times before and we will have them again, yet we are people who can celebrate, can live, who do live, choose life, and live deeply with a great sense of joy and gratitude. The second reminder is that we are not alone. Even if we are separated by distance, talking through our computers, we will still find ways to connect. We deeply believe that there’s God and though we may not understand what is happening right now, God is there, and we are not alone, and we need to call upon that source of strength whenever we can.  

Q: Thank you, that’s truly inspirational. It’s a difficult time for everyone, but we are also thinking a lot about our students. We’d love to get an understanding of what you’re hearing from Hillel communities across campuses, and how are students preparing for this holiday period?  

A: There are different kinds of students right now and we are trying to find ways to help all of them. Some students are stuck in their dorms because they couldn’t travel home, some are home or in places where they’d want to be in these circumstances, and then there are those who are home but may not have a Jewish support system for a lot of reasons. We understand that this is complicated, but we are trying to find ways to help all of them celebrate this holiday by offering them virtual resources.  

Some campuses are setting up Zoom-based Seders for students to plug into. There are local rabbis and executive directors of campuses that are filming their family Seders and inviting students to virtually join in. There are organizations like One Table, who are hosting Passover 2020 by offering students options and guides to host solo Passovers, or plug into various virtual spaces to celebrate with others. At Hillel International, we are offering resources like how to organize your own virtual Seder, how to join Zoom sessions, or celebrate with others virtually. We are trying to offer our support in creative ways to find an alternative to a very traditional holiday moment. I think that’s what we can all do right now.  

Read about the World's Largest Virtual Seder

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Members of Black communities across the U.S. have disproportionately fallen sick or died from the virus, so some church leaders are using their influence and trusted reputations to fight back by preaching from the pulpit.
Dr. Eboo Patel, Founder, and President of IFYC offered this comment as we remember Juneteenth this year: “Slavery and racism are amongst America’s original sins. Juneteenth marks an important step towards redemption, and so we observe it as a sacred day of remembrance and reflection.” 
Truly, how long must we wait till we achieve our full and complete freedom? And when I say “freedom” I do not mean the theoretical kind, or the type where million-dollar corporations drape their logos with the colors of the rainbow to express a monetary tolerance.
On Thursday, June 10, 2021, Krista Tippett and Eboo Patel discussed the value of courageous pluralism and deep listening at a pivotal moment of our nation's collective formation. How can we equip young people to best address the needs of our time and beyond—truly cultivating the understanding that we belong to one another?
Interfaith coalitions have long taken up racial justice causes, most famously in the civil rights movements of the '60s, Yet, interfaith organizations themselves have often not taken racial equity work seriously.
The conversation among participants focused on past, present and future possibilities of interfaith collaboration at HBCUs and among Black and African American students on other college campuses.
These women are influencing so many in their community by being beacons of the values they hold dear, and that is an incredible way to guide a community. 
While pursuing a master’s degree in Buddhist studies, Han decided to focus her thesis on documenting the nuances of Asian American Buddhists, a community that seemed almost nonexistent, she wrote.
He sees potential for future science-informed partnerships between the government and faith communities to tackle the pandemic.
What has happened in our institution provides a template for similar institutions who may be going through some challenges in establishing an interfaith program. It shows that being true to one’s faith and being inclusive are not opposites.
I hear my sisters and brothers calling out in cacophony, “Aint I a Human?” When Sojourner Truth considered the ways in which white women were revered and protected; when she witnessed the ways their gentility and femininity were affirmed and nurtured; when she experienced the contrast in how she was treated relative to those who shared her gender but not her color, she was compelled to ask, “Aint I a Woman?”
The following interview features Imam Makram El-Amin, who has led the Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of Light) in Minneapolis for 25 years and serves as executive director of Al-Maa’uun, the mosque’s community outreach organization.
The following interview features Anthony Cruz Pantojas, co-chair of the Latinx Humanist Alliance, an affiliate of the American Humanist Association.
The following interview features Micah Fries, director of programs at the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network and director of engagement at GlocalNet.
The church first started offering vaccine doses in January in an effort to boost the vaccination rates in New York City’s Black and Hispanic communities.
This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. 
Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, talks about the Catholic response to the pandemic.
Fred Davie joins Alia Bilal, Anthea Butler, Adam Russell Taylor and Eric Lewis Williams in a conversation that gets to the heart of how interfaith cooperation can be a part of accountability, justice, and reconciliation in America’s next chapter.
Two thousand volunteers of diverse faiths will engage people through their religious communities.
"Over the years, people have asked if I was 'called' to be a rabbi, and the truth is I don't know, but what I do know is I did listen to an inner voice which I now believe was a holy voice. That holy voice led me to listen even when I doubted..."
The USS Olympia is home to the Difficult Journey Home exhibit that opens May 28, and a historical marker will be unveiled during the Museum’s Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, May 31. Independence Seaport Museum

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.