(Editor’s note: This is an ongoing story that will be revised as new information becomes available.)
Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?
On all other Passovers, the seder, a home-based ritual, brings family and friends together around the same dinner table, recounting the story of the Israelites’ freedom from bondage. Why on this night must families sit alone and livestream seders?
Because this is the first Passover in the time of the coronavirus.
Jews are taking their seders to the internet this year, using streaming platforms such as Zoom and Facebook Live as a substitute for guests.
There is a learning curve. Seder-goers must get used to breaking their own middle matzos, building Hillel sandwiches, dipping leafy greens in salt water, contorting their faces while biting into the bitter herb — all while digitally linked to the seder they are “attending.”
It doesn’t precisely fulfill the traditional statement, “let all who are hungry come eat.” But in a time of pandemic, it may be the best that can be done.
Most synagogues in Louisville are planning their own virtual seders, either from the leaders’ homes or their buildings.
There are challenges to overcome. There is even the threat of hacking.
But there is also the opportunity for innovation, learning technical ways to enhance Judaism that could live beyond the pandemic.
“This whole thing is an experiment,” said Rabbi Robert Slosberg of Adath Jeshurun. “We’re in uncharted territory, which is a mixed blessing because some of things coming out of this [time] are unbelievable.”
For instance, The Temple will be streaming parts or all of its first- and second-night seders from a space in the building that it calls its “Zoom Room.”
Rabbinic Assistant Benji Berlow said the Zoom Room, named for the platform most synagogues are using to stream their services and classes, is really The Temple’s archives. It has been outfitted with multiple screens to give its rabbis “functionality” over adult education classes and virtual services.
“We will be sharing a virtual hagadah through Zoom, so everyone can follow along together,” Berlow said. “I will be monitoring the Zoom call from home to make sure everything is running smoothly logistically (helping people off screen, muting audio feedback, etc.).”
The Temple’s has registered 400 people for its first-night seder — the cutoff for the event — reflecting a spike in virtual service and program attendance that synagogues here and around the world are experiencing.
“We are seeing that people are really in need of this connection with their synagogues,” Rabbi David Ariel-Joel said.
Other synagogue rabbis streaming their seders from home have their own hurdles to overcome.
Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner of Temple Shalom has spotty Wi-Fi in her house, so she plans to string a 60-foot cable from her upstairs router to her downstairs dining room.
Slosberg, who will co-lead AJ’s virtual seder with Cantor David Lipp on Zoom and Facebook Live, said he is concerned about unmuting participants, which could lead to noise feedback.
“I’ll probably have everyone on mute and have everyone around their own tables, and just guide them,” he said.
Then some challenges are only indirectly related to the technology, like young families dealing with their children while on a live feed to the seder.
Rabbi Michael Wolk of Keneseth Israel, who will stream his seder from home with his wife, Heidi, has just that challenge.
“Heidi and I have two young children who will not understand that there are other people in the room with us,” he explained. “Fortunately, they are cute kids.”
On top of that, livestreaming a seder at all is troubling for the KI rabbi.
“As a Conservative rabbi, this poses a challenge because I do not use electricity on Shabbat and holidays,” Wolk said. “I chose to do this because there are so many people who will be alone on Passover and even more who have no idea how to put on a seder.”
Wolk’s religious issue goes back to the prohibition against making fire on Shabbat and holy days. Orthodox Jews must also deal with this issue.
In fact, Anshei Sfard will not livestream a seder, though Rabbi Simcha Snaid held a virtual class to explain how it is done. He also is calling his members help them prepare.
“This is an opportunity to have a seder with our children … and really instill within them a pride in our heritage and traditions that we have done for thousands of years,” Snaid said.
The Union for Reform Judaism and United Synagogue have both posted tips to its members, helping them move their activities online.
But there is a new threat to the virtual seder: hacking.
The ADL is warning against so-called “Zoombombing,” efforts to disrupt virtual services and seders by hacking into them and leaving anti-Semitic, even pornographic, images and memes. Synagogues have already reported Zoombombing of their minyans and Shabbat services.
The ADL has posted a how-to checklist for thwarting Zoombombing.
Adversity, though, is nothing new to Judaism.
“Jewish tradition has prepared us for this moment, Ariel-Joel said. “In the hagadah, we say: ‘In each and every generation, they rise up to destroy us.’ We begin with the need to protect our families and our homes from external threats.”
As seders are being planned, the community is making sure everyone who needs a seder meal will have one.
The JCC, KI, Chabad of Kentucky, The Temple and Jewish Family & Career Services either have or are still taking orders for Passover meals.
At the JCC, curbside pickup for its meals will be on Wednesday, April 8 from noon to 3 p.m. Contact Tara Stone at 502-238-2749 or firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
IN addition to its meal orders, Chabad is available to sell chometz (food that is not kosher for Passover). Call 502-235-5770.
The Temple meals made by Chef Z, are $10 for each Temple member and $20 for non-members. Sign up online.
Jewish Louisville is holding programs to enhance the Passover experience.
Last week, Temple Shalom and The Temple jointly sponsored a lesson from Israel by Rabbi Dalia Marx on the classic Passover parable, The Four Children.
JFCS held a hands-on mitzvah project Monday, showing participants how to bake their own matzos.
In addition to its first- and second-night seders, The Temple will stream an online seder for young adults on Saturday, April 11.
Temple Shalom will steam a performance during Passover by comedian Joel Chasnoff, “Laugh and Learn,” at 1 p.m., Tuesday, April 14, on Zoom. Fir access details, contact Temple Shalom at email@example.com.
And Chailands Chavurah will stream a virtual program on Zoom with LHOME President Amy Shir at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 7 The program, “All Who Are Hungry, Let Them Come and Eat: Tikkun Olam for Passover Week,” will address emergency assistance for individuals and small business owners. Jewish Poetry Night will follow at 8 p.m. Contact the Chailands at firstname.lastname@example.org for details, and indicate if you wish to read something for the poetry night.