Passover, one of the most celebrated holidays in the Jewish world, commemorates the biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The weeklong holiday is celebrated by munching on matzah, slabs of crisp, unleavened bread, and abstaining from chametz, or leavened food. Other observances include the seder (a ritual meal), lively song, intense discussion and of course, debate.
Unlike many Jewish holidays, one of the primary rituals of Passover, the seder, takes place in the home. Hillels around the world serve as surrogate homes for students during Passover, making the role of Hillel even more important. Some of them may have difficulty being away from their family on this holiday, and others may be first-time attendees at a seder.
In this way, Hillel upholds the commandment described in the Hagadah, the guidebook for the seder: “Let all those who are hungry, come and eat.” Whether students are hungry for brisket and macaroons, or hungry for the warmth of community and the light of Torah, Hillel welcomes them to the table.
This year, given social isolation mandates, Hillel communities around the world will celebrate freedom as a party of one. They may be in an unexpected place with a small group of roommates, or participate in online seders with family members hundreds of miles away.
To help out, we’ve assembled a collection of Passover resources that will empower you to make the holiday meaningful, wherever you are and whomever you are with.
Tips for a memorable Zoom Seder (aka “Zeder”)
So you’ve decided to do your seder (or part of your seder) over Zoom. Good for you! Here are some tips and tricks to make the experience meaningful, even if you’re not in the same room as all of your guests. You can also print these tips out in our handy Zoom Seder Guide (PDF).
Have a purpose: When planning your seder, think about why you’re doing it. Are you trying to connect with friends or family? Do you need to hear or sing certain songs? To read the entire Haggadah? To fulfill the obligations of the seder? Do you want to have deep conversations about the nature of freedom or your current situation? Once you’ve defined your purpose, use it to guide what you will do during your seder.
Appoint a leader: Having one person be in charge of the seder is key. This designated person figures out the plan in advance, invites people, makes sure the seder flows, and most importantly, makes sure the seder ends on time. You don’t have to be the leader, but the leader needs to know in advance that they are leading.
Divide and conquer: The leader doesn’t and shouldn’t do every part of the seder. Seders in general, and online seders in particular, should be broken up with different people leading different parts. The leader should assign parts as much in advance as possible to give guests a chance to prepare and should give some basic parameters of time and content.
Get on the same page: Try having people use the same Haggadah (here’s a great list of online options) to make it easier for guests to navigate the seder, and send a link to it before the seder. Encourage people to use their favorite Haggadot for sharing pictures and commentary.
Make it interactive: The traditional seder is based around questions (four to be exact). Ask your guests open-ended questions related to Passover and use this moment to help your seder go deep. Some suggested questions: When do you feel the most free? What are you grateful for at this moment? In the future, what story do we want to tell about this period in our lives? Try going beyond questions to include skits, games and storytelling.
Hit that mute button: Music is an integral part of most seders, but so challenging when video conferencing. For those comfortable using technology on the holiday, have one person sing while everyone else sings along on mute. This will help everyone stay together due to the technical limitations of most video conferencing platforms.
Less is more: For your seder, you’ll probably find that doing a little less than usual will result in a better overall experience. Maybe only have a 20-30 minute call together to launch your seder, or focus on four questions that you or your guests write. The free version of Zoom allows for 40-minute sessions, and could be the perfect length for your seder. As the great line from the Talmud says, “One spicy pepper is better than a basketful of bland squash.” Fill your seder with a few really nice elements, and take out what might not work as well online, like the reading of large chunks of Hebrew/English in unison.
Remember, Judaism has your back: The seder was developed over 2,000 years ago following the destruction of the Temple as a home-based replacement for the Paschal sacrifice. At its core, the seder is trying to give access to an experience that is impossible to fully recreate. The seder as we know it is the result of a world of rapidly changing needs, and the product of incredible innovation and imagination to address those needs. This was as true 2,000 years ago as it is today.
Top Five Songs of the Seder
Music and signing is a key part of most seders. Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, director of content development for the Hillel U Center for Jewish and Israel Education, offers his top five seder songs.
- Order of the Seder: Not the fanciest melody, but this classic Babylonian tune helps teach the order of the various parts of the seder. And there’s also this dressed-up version.
- Mah Nishtanah (The Four Questions): Part of the seder since its origins over 2,000 years ago, these questions (really answers), often sung by the youngest person at the table (or in the Zoom room) form the foundation for the entire Seder.
- Dayenu: An upbeat Ashkenazi classic melody, with some good notes of gratitude as well.
- Eliyahu: A great seventh inning seder stretch song, that welcomes the prophet Elijah to the table. My favorites are this acoustic guitar style version and this Chasidic-dub style version.
- L’shanah Habah B’Yirushalim: The classic ending to the seder, and a good reminder that as Jews, we always hope that in the coming year, the world (and all of us) will be in a better place than we are now.
- Ideas for a Solo Seder: Written by a group of talented young Jews, this piece is full of great tips and tricks to make your seder wonderful.
- The Minimalist's Guide to Passover and Seder: Sometimes, we don’t need to go overboard to celebrate, and this is one of those times. Follow this advice here to have a kosher, but minimal seder and Passover.
- Picking a Haggadah: With so many Haggadot out there, it can be hard to choose. This list has some good suggestions of both Haggadot to download for free, and to buy online.
- COVID-19 and the Challenge of Spending Pesach Alone: From Dr. Michelle Friedman, the head of pastoral counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, this piece gives sound advice to those struggling with isolation.
Pesach — Passover in Hebrew.
Seder — Literally “order.” The seder is the ritual meal on the first night, and repeated on the second night in many homes, where the narratives of the Exodus from Egypt are told.
Haggadah — The text read at the seder.
Matzah — Unleavened bread that resembles a cracker. It's one of the key symbolic foods of Passover.
Chametz — Leavened food that is avoided on Passover.
“Chag kasher v’sameach” — “A happy and kosher holiday” (Hebrew)
“Ah zissen Pesach” — “A sweet Passover” (Yiddish)