Last year, the world appeared to change in an instant and just weeks later, it was time for a very different Passover.
Passover will once again be a virtual celebration.
At the time, concepts such as Zoom and virtual dinner parties were still in their infancy, and many didn’t really have the mental bandwidth at that point to pull something together. But a year in, there’s another Passover upon us – and another opportunity to make the best of a difficult situation and get the whole extended family together virtually.
While more religious families will be unable to utilize technology during their Seder, for those who are open to that – gathering for a Seder on Zoom can be a great way to eat and drink together safely. For others, planning a virtual Passover gathering during another night of the week of Passover can be a great solution.
Preparation is usually something you do the day of the Seder (or sometimes the day before): making all of the courses, preparing the seder plate, etc. That’s still important but you’re only making it for yourself, so it’s a lot easier. The important part comes with organizing what normally happens naturally.
“If you have people joining that have never been to a seder or prepared one, make sure you have a list of things to buy and a back up list,” said Chad Martin, Northeast Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism. Not everyone wants to go out and buy Matzoh, fresh parsley or horseradish…especially if it’s just for one night and it’s just for themselves.
Assignments, assignments, assignments!
Normally, for a Seder, everyone would sit around a table and take turns reading from the Haggadah. “At my home we start left of the dealer and just keep going around,” said Martin.
For Zoom, it is important to make sure people know when they are speaking (often experienced participants even have a preference of parts). “Luckily, we had the foresight to give people the opportunity to volunteer for parts at both of my seders last year, but I can only imagine the chaos that would have ensued otherwise,” said Martin.
“My friend hosted a virtual Seder for her family last year, and since it was at the early onset of our stay at home order, she graciously had me join as well,” said Tracy Wilk, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. For the Seder, she created her own custom Haggadah online. “Using Zoom, she and her husband shared her screen and we all read the Haggadah together,” said Wilk, who felt it was really nice to feel like a part of something, despite the challenges of being at home.
The great thing about a Zoom seder is there is practically no limit (depending on your Zoom subscription) on how many people can join. But there are only so many parts. “I recommend a first come first serve policy just to prevent any hard feelings,” said Martin. “Singing parts are best conducted by one household of multiple participants with everyone else joining…on mute!”
As with in-person Seders, the Haggadah is your guide. “I transposed the one my family has used for about thirty years into a word document, made some updates and then into a PDF,” said Martin.
The important part here is to personalize it for each seder. “Write the names of those participating, so it reads more like a script and send out that version to everyone,” said Martin. That way all attendees know who’s speaking. Adding a few jokes here and there never hurts either. You want people to read along and have fun.
Whoever is leading the seder needs to be prepared for at least an hour in one place with all the different foods and symbols at hand.
No matter what, remember to look at the camera. “I recommend very carefully using a tablet or laptop to capture the Seder,” said Martin, who shared that last year, he had to put a laptop on a chair to capture all that was going on. No need to have a professional set up. Just good placement. “Remember after all that stress of set up and assignments to relax and have fun! After all that preparation, it’s a festival of freedom after all!” said Martin.
Music is essential to celebrate, so try to set the atmosphere more than with music. Services like Spotify have a bunch of playlists you can choose from or you can make your own!
For the menu, Tracy Wilk, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, recommends having each participant share a recipe or component of the meal with the group 1-2 weeks before the planned Seder, so everyone can make a traditional meal and enjoy it together.
“Due to the pandemic, there are a lot of companies offering Seder in a box, which could be really nice to send to anyone who lives alone or has a smaller family, said Wilk. For Passover, it’s traditional to have wine, so break out your favorite bottle and cherish it with those you love. And of course, the youngest can still ask the very important four questions – spotlight their video and let them shine.
Another great way to celebrate together for the holiday virtually, is to join a Zoom cooking session prior to the Seder or the day of to cook a recipe together. “Share the recipe prior so everyone can gather ingredients and then can cook together, share tips and more,” said Wilk, who shared her recipe for toffee and chocolate-covered matzo. “I love how the sweet and salty combination and how the matzo gets slightly softer texture!” said Wilk. It’s perfect for a virtual cooking session.
“I love cooking a passover dinner that incorporates the symbols of the seder plate as part of the meal,” said Einat Admony, a chef on Tastemade’s fan-favorite series Make This Tonight, where professional chefs visit the Tastemade kitchen to show viewers how to make restaurant-quality meals at home.
For example, Admony likes to make something simple like sabich egg salad, or a Scottish quail egg (without the sausage) covered in almond flour and matzo meal. For bitter herbs, Admony uses the celery leaf greens and makes a Waldorf salad.
“Even though my Mizrahi Jewish mom would always cook an amazing pomegranate chicken called Fesenjoon, I would suggest making beef brisket cooked with charoset. I think adding the seder elements to the dinner is lots of fun,” said Admony.
People in America are used to eating matzo ball soup for Passover, but you can play with the matzo ball mix. “You can stuff the matzo balls with a nutty ground beef or savory squash mixture,” said Admony. Mix in all sorts of herbs and spices. Admony likes to add Yemenite flavors like Hawaij and dried Fenugreek leaves.
While all families will have different levels of Passover observance, if sending wine to loved ones this Passover, it’s important to make sure the wine is Kosher for Passover.
Finding good quality kosher wine is getting easier than it once was, but the range is still far from broad. Here’s some great options that are available for shipment.
Château Meyney Saint-Estèphe 2018
Bartenura Prosecco Rosé
2014 Giscours, Margaux
Yarden Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer with over a decade of experience covering travel and food.