Elijah the Prophet will toast you on Zoom: Ways to get through a socially distanced Passover

The prize for finding the matzah this year is a roll of toilet paper

Estelle Erasmus
New York
Thursday 09 April 2020 22:56 BST
This year's traditions might have to be a little different
This year's traditions might have to be a little different (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


This year for Passover’s first Seder night — where families share the Biblical story of rebelling against slavery by the Egyptians and the Pharaoh by taking their clans and leaving — we were invited to celebrate with our friends in New York City. Unfortunately, coronavirus had other plans.

Since NYC — and most of the country — is on lockdown due to the current pandemic, we have no choice but to celebrate Passover virtually, where we sit together next to a monitor showing the pale, stressed faces of our distant — and now also socially distant — friends and family. As the song from back in the nineties and early aughts says: “It’s time to Zoom. It’s time to Zoom. Zoom. It’s time to Zooma, Zooma, Zooma Zoom.”

It got me thinking of other ways that the rituals and traditions of Passover will change this year.

We Wash Our Hands

Tradition: Not only do we wash our hands at the beginning of the seder; we also wash them before we eat. Because, hygiene.

This year: We will wash our hands before, during, during, during, during, after, while singing Happy Passover to you, Happy Passover to You. Happy Passover, Happy Passover, Happy Passover to you. And… repeat till our hands are as dry and as flaky as a piece of matzah — the unleavened bread that the Jews carried with them when they fled, because they didn’t have time to allow the dough to rise for actual bread.

The Seder Plate

Tradition: You put a plate together that includes the ritual foods, like a shankbone, roasted egg, bitter herbs, beets, charoset (a mixture of apples and nuts) and green vegetables.

This Year: Here’s a picture of what we should be eating, kids, because we couldn’t get our Peapod/Instacart/Costco/Amazon Fresh/Whole Foods delivery time scheduled. Enjoy!

The Ten Plagues

Tradition: We count them while dipping a finger into our wine and placing it on a napkin. Blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, plague on the firstborn.

This year: The plagues are pretty much all covered in this one word: coronavirus. So our ritual this year will be shouting “coronavirus” 10 times, while crying, and spinning in a circle that ends up facing Jerusalem.

The Four Questions

Tradition: We have our youngest ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

This Year: Duh. Let’s skip right to a must-see press conference by Andrew Cuomo and we’ll understand even better because of…facts…and Powerpoint.

The Wine

Tradition: Throughout the meal, we consume four cups.

This Year: Throughout the meal, we will drink each time our President says the word pandemic in his Passover-themed coronavirus task force briefing/seder led by Jared Kushner.

Eliyahu’s Blessing

Tradition: Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the prophet) comes to your door and takes a sip from the wine glass you have filled at the table while you sing.

This Year: Due to an abundance of caution with the coronavirus, Eliahu will be practicing social distancing. He will, however, be available for a Zoom toast.

Finding The Afikomen

Tradition: We hide a piece of matzah in different places around the house, and the kid(s) who find it first win a prize (usually cash from Grandpa).

This Year: We hide the matzah, assuming we even have matzah, since we didn’t get that delivery time on Peapod, Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods or InstaCart despite constantly refreshing our cart. In lieu of matzah, then, we will make do by hiding a couple of old Ritz crackers around the house — no, kids, you can’t feed it to the dog; yes, I know it’s not unleavened, but we are in a pandemic, mmkay?

Grandma and Grandpa are in the highest-risk group so they are alone at home trying to watch on Zoom (although they’ve struggled to log in, and keep forgetting to unmute themselves.) At least they’re smiling.

The prize this year: a roll of toilet paper, which they will send as soon as it becomes available.

The Blessing

Tradition: We end our service with a blessing for the future, that gives the hope that we will celebrate it next year in Jerusalem.

This Year: We didn’t realize that when we changed our clocks we’d go from Standard Time to the Twilight Zone, but that’s the reality we are living in. We not only hope we can do it next year in Jerusalem, we also hope that we can actually go anywhere that isn’t just our local community, and that we will see our friends (not just on the monitor) and hug and kiss our distant family members in real time.

In the meantime, we need that food delivery time from Peapod, Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods or InstaCart so refresh, refresh, refresh…

Happy Passover.

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