Their seder, Amanda Swarbrick observed afterward, was “a little strange.” The Swarbricks, who are quarantining in their home in Bala Cynwyd, shared a Zoom seder with 10 other families Wednesday evening.
“Part of the seder is being all around the table,” Swarbrick said. “And we had to take that definition and recreate it.”
As a relative led the virtual seder from North Jersey, their family was ready, following along a PDF version of the Haggadah on tablets.
Swarbrick, who is planning a Zoom bar mitzvah for her son Gabriel next month, said she’ll look back on this time as a “crazy piece of life and history.” She’s not alone.
The Inquirer asked readers to share images and thoughts from their virtual Passover seders. Their submissions show creativity and patience.
“My grandmother could not figure how to use the app, so we had to FaceTime her, my aunt and uncle arrived late because they were in a virtual Zumba class, my brother refused to show his face because he had a freshly buzzed head, and, of course, the internet connection was unstable, resulting in many moments of confusion,” explained Amanda Rosen, 17, of Elkins Park. But, they were all able to share the holiday together. “Needless to say, the virtual seder experience was fun and full of love.”
Here’s how families around the region kept — and reimagined — their traditions. Some have been edited for length.
Tobie Hoffman, 66, of Mount Airy
How many celebrated with Hoffman?
Forty, all virtually.
What the seder meant, in Hoffman’s words
“For a single person like me who usually travels to Maryland for seder to be with family, I couldn’t imagine not being with others. Members of the P’nai Or Philadelphia Community came together to create a musical, spiritual, and meaningful seder. My table was set with all of the requirements and some friendly faces (a picture of my mother Sylvia and my great Aunt Irene along with Larry Bowa, and flowers from my garden.) It was all a seder should be.”
Nad Rosenberg, 75, of Chestnut Hill
Who attended Rosenberg’s seder?
Two at home, 10 people virtually.
What the seder meant, in Rosenberg’s words
“Passover is a celebration of freedom, both personal and political. In these very difficult times, Passover provides many lessons — mainly that we should never forget that our people were slaves in the land of Egypt. This should give us empathy, compassion, and the ability to reach out and support people who are in desperate circumstances.”
Amanda Rosen, 17, of Jenkintown
Who attended Rosen’s seder?
Five people in the home, 12 people virtually.
What the seder meant, in Rosen’s words
"Like in all previous Passovers, the seder not only reminds me of the struggle and persistence of the Jewish people, but also how their fortitude brings families together over 3,000 years later, even in a time of crisis. While traditionally the seder would be at my grandmother’s house, with beautiful plastic glasses, Haggadahs older than me, and family within a 30-mile radius, last night consisted of fine china, a Haggadah pdf from Google, and aunts and uncles who live four hours away.
"This seder allowed me to celebrate the Jews escaping with the most family I had and allowed me feel connected to others — my brothers in my home, my cousins from South Carolina, and the Israelites from Egypt — even while isolated. The seder meant Judaism found a way to unite us in a setting of positivity and attempt of normalcy.”
Phyllis Bonfield, 77, Sicklerville
Who attended Bonfield’s seder?
11 people virtually
What the seder meant, in Bonfield’s words
"We could not be together in person, but were all there remotely for a very special seder. My son, Jeff Bonfield, modified our “Bonfield Family Haggadah” to a shorter, 30-minute version with PowerPoint slides so all of us could participate in reading the service …
“At 5 p.m., we joined Jeff and Anita remotely for seder and after a few remote greetings, such as to Heidi in Los Angeles with baby due in September, ‘stand up so we can see your baby bump.’ When it was time for the children to read the Four Questions, Cooper and Grayson read them in Hebrew to remote cheers. Then, Holly, who has autism, chanted the Four Questions in Hebrew with more cheers. While not the same this year when nothing is the same, we found a way to see each other, share our seder and be together in spirit and love.”
Leah Zebovitz, 25, of Elkins Park
Who attended Zebovitz’s seder?
Four people in the house, 18 people virtually.
What the seder meant, in Zebovitz’s words
"At first, I was really hesitant and skeptical about a virtual seder. My family is more observant, and we don’t tend to use most technology on the holiday. I was worried it wouldn’t feel like a normal seder. We did our normal table setup, we put together our seder plate (though with a printed shank bone, of which we charred the edges), and we cooked our normal seder food, though smaller quantities than normal.
“And it didn’t quite feel like a normal seder. But I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. We had cousins participating who we haven’t been able to have at a seder in years because they live far away. We got to see many young kids, and let the kids participate with each other virtually. We even managed to have some decent adult discussion. When we finally turned it off around midnight, hours after the younger kids went to bed, I did feel like we had had a seder. ’”
Gail Solomon-Dorfman, 63, of Cherry Hill
Who attended Solomon-Dorfman’s seder?
Two at home, 16 people virtually.
What the seder meant, in Solomon-Dorfman’s words
"What should have been the most distressing seder we’ve ever had turned out to be the most meaningful and perhaps the best seder we’ve ever had … In preparing to lead the seder I kept focusing on a line from our Haggadah that tells us we are meant to feel as if each one of us is experiencing the Passover story for ourselves, making our way from Egypt to the promised land. I’ve never fully connected with that directive. But this year we truly find ourselves in ‘Mitzrayim,’ literally the ‘narrow place’ craving the freedom we have lost. The age-old story took on new meaning, the symbols now represented different and more current things. I tasked my participants in advance of the seder to come up with creative ways to not only explain but to redefine the Passover symbols and rituals.
“People presented interesting viewpoints, wrote songs, and one family even created a video that linked the modern day experience to the Passover story. Old symbols were given new meaning, new perspective. ”
Wendy Galson, 69, of Mount Airy
How many people attended Galson’s seder?
Three people in the home, another eight people virtually.
What the seder meant, in Galson’s words
"It was very moving to me to be able to share the seder with my 94-year-old father, my 89-year-old uncle and my 85-year-old aunt, all of whom are quarantined in their homes, a mile away from each other, but four hours away from me!
“I was going to be there with them in person, but it seemed unwise to travel during the pandemic. A blessing to be able to share the seder with my birth family, my chosen family of my next door neighbor and her girlfriend, and my son and daughter-in-law who we haven’t seen in weeks. I’m just sorry that I was not able to cook for them all! ”
Ina Asher, 70, of Merion
How many people attended Asher’s seder?
15 guests, all virtual.
What the seder meant, in Asher’s words
“It’s so important to bring family together to share the rituals and legacy of our Jewish community and the generations before us, and to convey to the next generation what it means to escape from slavery to freedom — both literally in our shared history and figuratively in the bonds that hold us back from achieving our goals.
"We want to keep the continuity of our people and to remain dedicated and appreciative of our heritage.”
Leah Wright, 35, Havertown
Who attended Wright’s seder?
More than 100 people. Wright attended a virtual community seder held by the Jewish Children’s Folkshul and Adult Community based in Chestnut Hill
What the seder meant, in Wright’s words
"For my entire life I’ve been a member of this community and the Sunday before Passover begins we gather as an entire community and hold a model Seder focused on social justice and inclusion. This year because we are unable to be together physically our high school assistants designed and ran our model seder via Zoom.
“We had 54 devices logged on — including members of our community who are in a different state right now. We received praise from our members including this from one of our board members, ‘It was the most intense feeling of fellowship I’ve ever felt in the Folkshul Community.’”