How to throw a virtual Seder
From how to host online to how to make a digital Haggadah. Happy Passover!
While we can't all gather in person this year, we can still bring the spirit of Passover and togetherness to the table — virtually. For those who may not know, Passover, or Pesach, is a Jewish holiday held each spring; it celebrates the Israelites' freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt following the ten plagues (read the Book of Exodus — or watch the Ten Commandments to dig deeper!). In many Jewish households, there are Seders held on the first two nights of the holiday, which incorporate many, specific rituals that start on the first night and are repeated on the second. Certain dietary changes from everyday continue for all eight days.
For those of us who take part, this year is likely to be very different. With self-isolating, social distancing, and staying home… who will hide the afikomen and who will find it? There will be many people and comforts missing: mom's matzo ball soup, dad's bad jokes, Marlene's famous matzo apple cake. But, there can be flowers, there can be wine, and there can be singing with family and friends, if only on a virtual basis. There can be hope and togetherness and fun. And like it or not, there can also be gefilte fish.
Here are my steps to Passover perfection in the time of COVID-19. Even if we all can't be together, this we can still do.
Your attendance is requested
Let's get things started by sending out a detailed invite for this online gathering, including instructions on how to download Zoom, how to use FaceTime or Whatssapp, and other offerings of technical help if needed. Invites could say something like this:
Virtual Seder: Wednesday, April 8th at 7pm
We will be conducting the Seder on the Zoom video conferencing platform.
Please RSVP to the following:
Who will be participating in your household? Please send names so we can assign some readings in the Haggadah.
Once you reply, I'll send out instructions on how to join the Seder via Zoom. I'll also send a link with the downloadable (and printable) Haggadah we'll be using.
Feel free to have all the Passover fixin's you want at your own home: a Seder plate, hardboiled eggs, saltwater and matzo. It's up to you how detailed you want to be.
Bonus points will be awarded for anyone using a fun Passover-appropriate virtual background with their Zoom!
The only book you need to read this Seder!
Now it's time to make your digital Haggadah so that you're all on the same page, literally and figuratively. Haggadot.com is a great site that allows you to build your own, sharable one (for free), and to help you along, they have a guide to the components needed for a fast and cheerful Seder. Once built, send the link ahead of time so that everyone can download it or print it if necessary. You can also create a simpler one on Google docs or any word processor of course.
How to make a simple Seder plate
The Seder plate is central to the Seder, so you should make the components for it the day of. You can also send these instructions to anyone attending, should they choose to make their own.
1. The shank bone (zeroa) represents the paschal sacrifice brought in Temple times. For this we'll use a chicken neck, roasted on the stovetop. Hold the chicken neck over a burner with a pair of tongs, until blackened on both sides.
2. The egg (beitza) represents spring and the holiday offering in Temple times (see the boiled egg recipe below).
3. The bitter herb (maror) reminds us of the bitter slavery and exile in Egypt. Here, we use horseradish. If you can't find fresh horseradish, a spoonful of prepared jarred will do.
4. Charoset reminds us of the bricks and mortar the Jews were forced to use while enslaved (see the easy recipe below).
5. The green vegetable (karpas) represents spring. This can be celery stalks or parsley.
6. The salt water represents the tears of our enslaved ancestors. Mix about two tablespoons of kosher salt into two cups of water, and serve in a small jug.
Matzo, maror, maggid, and four glasses of wine
In keeping with the spirit of the Seder there are a few things everyone should have at the ready. The three parts of the Seder that are absolutely required are the matzo, maror (bitter herb) and maggid (the telling of the Passover story). Plus, you must drink the four glasses of wine, so that's the good news! The four cups symbolize the four phrases used in the bible to describe God taking the Jews out of slavery. Kids, women who are pregnant, or anyone refraining from alcohol can partake of grape juice instead.
This year, take the help where you can get it
It's been quite a time, so consider treating yourself to a little Passover catering. Catering outfits and Jewish food-leaning restaurants accross Canada are offering set meals, many including the Seder plate, for as few as four people. A mitzvah! For some restaurants and caterers the window has closed on orders, but here are handful to try (fingers crossed) whether for the Seder or anytime during the eight days of Passover: Snowden Deli in Montreal; Bernstein's Delicatessen in Winnipeg; Forty One Catering in Vancouver and L-Eat Catering in Toronto. Bigger grocery stores and smaller butcher shops are also advertising Passover foods, from brisket and gefilte fish to matzo and horseradish, so check online too.
Nobody says no to flowers
Normally when you go to someone's house for a Seder you bring the host a token of thanks. Why not support small businesses and order something to send? What household wouldn't appreciate a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine or a box of kosher Passover Elite Flake chocolate bars right now?
How to boil an egg
Sometimes, it's the little things that fall through the cracks. For instance up to now, maybe you've never boiled an egg or made salt water. Here are a few recipes to help you out.
Here's how to hard-boil eggs. You need one for the Seder plate, as well as one for each person attending to dip in salt water. To make hard-boiled eggs, place room temperature eggs in boiling water, let them boil for 12 minutes, then rinse them under cold water. Peel the eggs not being used on the Seder plate, then cover and refrigerate until using.
Here's how to make charoset, the signature taste of Passover.
2 apples, cored and chopped
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup sweet kosher wine
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp honey
Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until almost smooth — leave a bit of texture. Serve with matzo.
How to make gefilte fish. Follow the recipe here — it's from my cookbook, and it's easy!
When it's all over, blow everyone a kiss and then say a little prayer that next Seder, we'll all be gathered around the table, together. Happy Passover!
Amy Rosen is a James Beard nominated, award-winning freelance journalist. Previously, she was the Food Editor at Chatelaine, and House & Home magazines. She writes regularly for publications including enRoute, Food & Drink and The Globe and Mail. Amy's latest cookbook is Kosher Style (Appetite by Random House) and she hopes you'll plotz for it. Follow Amy at Twitter and on Instagram @AmyRRosen.