Digital Content to Enliven This Year's Virtual Seder

March 26, 2020the staff of the URJ and other Reform Movement partners

Passover is a highly experiential holiday, a time when we typically come together with family, friends, and the rest of our community in celebration of our Judaism – remembering our past and anticipating our future. For some families, this is the one time of year when they join together in person to share traditions, tell stories, and create lasting memories.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put all of us, the world over, in an unprecedented position: Although we cannot share physical spaces, modern technology allows us to gather virtually, so that we may still create the experiences that achieve so many of the intentions of the holiday.

We know congregational leadership is already navigating many new realities – and so we want to help make the virtual part a little bit easier for you.

You already know how to host a beautiful, profound, and Jewishly meaningful seder; after all, creating community is what congregations do best! What you may not yet know, though, is how to re-imagine your usual traditions to incorporate digital content that will enliven this year’s virtual rendition of your seder.  

This multi-part resource addresses elements of the seder experience from choosing a Haggadah all the way to saying “Next year, in Jerusalem” together. Each section includes a few curated pieces of digital content (including videos, activity ideas, discussion guides, and more) that you can pick and choose in order to, ultimately, create a fun, engaging, meaningful, and memory-making virtual Passover experience in the age of COVID-19.

1. Choosing a Haggadah

The most important part of the story is the way you tell the story – your framing, your intention, the way you want people to feel… These considerations will help you decide which Haggadah is right for you – and this year’s unique circumstances may even present the opportunity for you to use more than one.

  • Reform Haggadot and Other Passover Resources: CCAR Press shares discounted Haggadot (both print and online), free flipbooks, and more to help you lead virtual Passover celebrations and allow seder guests to follow along from afar.
  • Kid-Friendly Haggadot: These eight great Haggadot have been recommended by Jewish educators as being imaginative, accessible, and child-friendly but not childish.

2. Setting the Atmosphere

Passover celebrates the story of the Jewish community’s transformation into a free and liberated people. Our celebration of this holiday is a joyous one, and the seder itself is intended to share the Exodus story with generations, from the youngest to the oldest.

This is the chance to create an experiential learning experience par excellence. Your seder can be fun and interactive, inspiring questions and invoking memories – while creating new ones, too. Dive into the chance play with the seder, argue, celebrate, inspire, and, most of all, create meaning.

  • Perfect Passover Playlists: Use these curated Spotify playlists to help create atmosphere throughout your seder. They include songs that are perfect for your youngest participants, as well as old-time, family-friendly favorites.
  • A Shalom Sesame Parody Video: “Les Matzarables” will surely get everyone in the mood for the excitement of the seder! Join with familiar, furry characters as they sing about Passover to a tune reminiscent of the classic Les Miserables.
  • Centering Immigration Justice in Your Passover Celebration: This resource will help you think about a current story of migration – that of asylum seekers arriving in the U.S. – and help you incorporate discussion and advocacy into your seder experience.
  • Easy Seder Activities You Haven’t Tried Yet: No need to do things the same way you always have (unless you want to, of course). These creative, experiential ideas will enliven the whole seder experience

Thought Questions:

  • How would you like people to prepare to join this virtual seder? What is making your table festive?
  • What could you do to welcome and connect people participating in this virtual seder?
  • What is exciting about Seder this year?
  • Which symbol on the seder plate is the most important?

3. Kadeish: Sanctification

Reciting the special Passover Kiddush blessing over the wine is one of the ways we make the moment holy. We lift up the first cup of wine (or juice) to remember our exodus from Egypt and taste the sweetness of freedom.

Thought Questions:

  • Traditionally, wine is intended to signify joy. What makes this seder joyful for you?
  • As we chant the first blessing, we sanctify the day. What is sacred about this time?
  • Customarily we recline to left while blessing the wine to celebrate the luxury of freedom. What freedom are you celebrating?

4. Karpas: Greens / Vegetable 

The first time we eat during the seder (and our first truly Passover-like ritual) is the dipping of greens into saltwater. Saltwater is a significant part of our story, a reminder of the tears shed during slavery and for enslaved people.

But dipping the greens – the first shoots of spring, which always return, whether we witness their budding or not – are signs of hope amid dark times. Hope emerges, even while damp with tears.

Thought Questions:

  • Karpas symbolizes hope for the future. Jewish tradition always embraces hope, even during uncertain times. What are you hopeful about?
  • What experiences in your life have given you hope? Tell about some struggle to change something that worked. What did you learn from it?

5. Magid: The Story

The Passover tells the story of the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to freedom, narrating the story of the Exodus from Egypt and describing each of the ritual items and their purpose.

This is when we ask the Four Questions – and then, in the rest of the Magid, we answer those questions in some the most popularly known elements of the seder.

  • The Passover Story in 10 Scenes: Journey through the story of the Exodus with PJ Library’s beautiful, artistic animation and easy-to-follow narration.
  • An Animated Song about Siblings: BimBam’s catchy music video tells the story of siblings Moses, Miriam, and Aaron and their familial devotion to one another; it also includes the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.
  • Kids Retell the Passover Story: In this fun video, young children tell the Exodus story in their own words – with a few twists.
  • 10 Great Discussion Topics: One of the most important elements of the seder is our commitment to the continuous act of asking questions – a reminder of our freedom. Here’s a list of imaginative questions to get guests thinking all seder long.
  • Write Your Own Passover Poetry: Using the model of six-word poetry to foster creative storytelling, invite your guests to write their own and share with the group.

Thought Questions: 

  • What moment in the Exodus story would you love to be able to transport yourself into and experience with the Israelites? Why?
  • Where do you see bravery in this story?

6. The Four Questions

One of the highlights of the seder is when we ask the Four Questions, typically sung by the youngest seder guests.

Using the refrain “Why is this night different from all other nights?” each question leads us to consider what makes this moment of remembering our exodus from Egypt so special.

  • A Four Questions Printout: Help everyone follow along and participate by emailing, screen-sharing, or printing of this simple but valuable PDF, which includes Hebrew/Aramaic, translation, and transliteration.
  • An Audio Track of The Four Questions: Sing the Four Questions together with this mp3 version and/or encourage guests to follow along with a printout of the words. You can even get creative and share your own images.
  • A Four Questions Singalong: This animated BimBam video isn’t just for kids! The "bouncing ball" helps everyone follow along with Hebrew, English, and transliteration. (Scroll to the bottom of the page for the video.)
  • Four Questions on Racial Justice: In this seder insert, clergy and teachers from diverse backgrounds address racial justice through the lens of the Four Questions.
  • Four Questions on Immigration Reform: These thought-provoking questions encourage us to consider our own history as immigrants and how we can fulfill the legacy of the Passover seder today.

Thought Questions:

  • The seder is all about invoking curiosity. This year, our seder is different in so many ways. What are some questions you’re asking tonight?
  • Which of the Four Questions resonates most strongly with you this year? Why?
  • It is traditional for the youngest person at the seder to ask the Four Questions. If you were to create a new tradition for the asking of the Four Questions, who would you choose to ask the questions? Why?

7. The Four Children

Throughout our history, the Four Children of the Passover story have sparked conversation, artistic renderings, songs, debates, and more.

This important moment in the seder – a moment of stereotypes and truths, educational philosophies and parenting insights – can invite everyone into conversation about ourselves as children, as adults, and as members of a community tasked with leading new generations into the future.

Thought Questions:

  • The Four Children could be perceived as four personalities within one person. When and how do you see yourself as each of these children?
  • One way to look at the text is very literally: In our lives, each of us knows people who embody each of these four attributes, or who display them with some regularity. Who in your life might be wise, wicked, simple, or unsure how to ask?

8. The Ten Plagues

Our freedom from slavery came only after great suffering on the part of the Egyptian people in the form of the Ten Plagues.

God brought the plagues against the Egyptian people with the potential that each could lead to the Israelites’ freedom. Instead, each plague led only to another until, finally, the ultimate plague: Death of the Firstborn.

To honor the weight of the terrible suffering brought upon the Egyptian people, we pour out a drop of wine for each of the Ten Plagues, each one signifying the cost of our celebration.

  • Ten Plagues of Inequality: This modern-day reimagining of Ten Plagues encourages us to think about issues of climate change, gun violence, and criminal justice reform – and agitates us to work for change.
  • A Prayer and a Poem for Refugees: These moving words about the refugee experience urges us to consider our people’s history and our responsibility to respond to the current refugee crisis.

Thought Questions: 

  • What makes you uncomfortable about the Ten Plagues? Why?
  • How can we understand the celebration of our own freedom in light of the pain that the plagues caused others? On a personal level, how do we reconcile celebrating when members of our community are suffering?
  • Today, people around the world are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. How is this experience impacting you?

9. “Dayenu

Dayenu, it should have been enough… but then there was more.

Particularly in times of stress, this moment in the seder, full of singing and simple repetition, can be a stark reminder of the importance (and the challenge) of practicing gratitude.

What might have been enough… until another meaningful moment appeared around the next corner? How can we see our time of gathering for seder as Dayenu, when we received a moment of grace, when perhaps we thought we’d had enough?

Thought Questions:

What are you grateful for this year?

  • In this unique year of COVID-19, which is impacting our Passover celebrations, what moments of gratitude can you share – even on the days when you feel like you’ve had enough?
  • Throughout the last few weeks, what have you learned about yourself and your awareness to find gratitude even in difficult times?
  • If you could add a verse to “Dayenu” this year, what would it be?

10. Maror, Charoset, and Koreich

In ancient times, the Talmudic scholar Hillel ate lamb, matzah, and bitter herbs together to symbolize the interconnectedness of slavery and freedom.

Today, we honor this tradition at our seder by making the famous koreich, also known as the “Hillel Sandwich.” Between two pieces of matzah, we combine sweet charoset (which represents the mortar used to build the pyramid) and maror (bitter herbs), a reminder not to forget the relationship between bitter and sweet.

  • A Little More about Maror: Hanan Harchol’s animated video offers a compelling introduction to the idea of maror – what happens when we experience bitterness and then have the opportunity to think about how to respond
  • Podcast: "Life Up Your Eyes": With your seder guests, listen to this short story about how to experience bitterness and pain in a way that can be miraculous, good, beautiful, sweet, and even holy.
  • Texas-Style Charoset: Share this recipe with guests in advance for a classic Ashkenazi charoset recipe… with a little Lone Star State twist!
  • A Seder Activity about Freedom:  How else might we create the sweetness and bitterness represented by the Hillel Sandwich? This list encourages you to think about food combinations that might create similar experiences. Poll your guests to see which combinations they may want to try next year.

Thought Questions: 

  • We eat the bitter herbs twice before eating the meal. How does tasting the bitterness increase our enjoyment of the sweet?
  • Has there been an experience in your life that was bitter at first but, in retrospect, feels sweet?
  • When in your life have you experienced bitter and sweet concurrently?
  • What are the origins of your favorite charoset recipe?

11. Shulchan Oreich: Eating the Festive Meal

It’s finally time to enjoy our festive meals!

In past years, maybe we all sat together and ate the same food around the same table, arguing about whether the matzah balls were too dense or too light. This year, we’re eating different meals at different tables in different places, but we’re still able to come together as a community.

There’s more to do after the meal, so check back later to complete the seder. B’tayavon (and, pssst: Try not to chew too loudly into your microphone).

  • Passover Recipes: This treasure trove of recipes includes dishes from around the world, giving you lots of new ideas for your seder and for the rest of the week, as well. Send this link to guests in advance to encourage them to try a new recipe this year, too.

Thought Questions:

  • What’s your go-to main course on Passover?
  • Share a story about a dish on your seder table.

12. Finding the Afikomen

At the start of the seder, we broke the middle piece of our three pieces of matzah, removing half and wrapping the larger section in a separate cloth to serve as the afikomen, the “dessert” matzah that will mark the official end of the seder.

Hiding the afikomen for young people to search for and find at the end of the seder is a highlight of the holiday – and yet another example of how the rabbis designed the seder to be interactive and experiential. Kids will stay awake throughout the seder if a game (and maybe a prize) awaits them!

  • Dog vs. Afikomen: This year, you may not all be able to search for the afikomen together – but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with the ritual. Share this video and see what you think!

Thought Questions:

  • Though the afikomen represents our liberation from slavery, other types of slavery and bondage still persist today. What can we commit to this year to support the liberation of those oppressed by other forms of bondage?
  • The afikomen reminds us that what is broken can be repaired, and what is lost can be found. What are some things you hope to find and repair before we meet again for seder in 2021?
  • What strategy did the kids use to find the afikomen? What skills did they use?

13. Hallel, Elijah, and Miriam: Moments of Praise and Hope

With our stomachs full, we spend a few moments offering our praise and gratitude – for God, and for freedom.

This is also a moment when we recognize Miriam, a leader of the Jewish people in her own right, for helping to protect Moses as an infant and leading the Israelites in song after crossing the Red Sea.

We also welcome to our table the prophet Elijah, a symbol of redemption and a harbinger of a messianic age when the world will be healed.

  • Podcast: “Small Things”: Elijah represents a hopefulness for the future, a redemptive time to come – but we cannot arrive at that time without everyone doing the work of redemption. Listen to this short story, then invite guests to share their own stories of small actions that make a big difference.
  • Raising Up Miriam: This poem by Ruth H. Sohn raises up the voice of Miriam, which helps us to remember the power of belief, miracles, and song.

Thought Questions:

  • We open the door to welcome Elijah in order to usher in hope for the future. What do you think Elijah needs to bring this year?
  • What will we do this year to help bring hope to the world?

14. Nirtzah: Looking Ahead

The final step in the seder is the song “B’shanah Habaah B’Yerushalayim (Next Year in Jerusalem).” We conclude the evening with hope for the future and for increased healing in the world – and with our own commitment to strive to create a better and more complete world in the year to come.

This is the time in the seder when we sing classic songs like “Chad Gaya (One Kid Goat),” an allegory for the reality of consequences.

  • An Uplifting Final Perspective: Whether you encourage people to read this piece on their own or separate it into parts to share aloud together, it takes a thoughtful, hopeful look at what it might mean to say "Next year in Jerusalem."
  • Now What? Finish off your seder with this video from BimBam, which teaches the how and why of counting the Omer from now until the holiday of Shavuot.

Thought Questions:

  • We conclude our seder looking toward next year. What do you hope for next year's Passover?

Visit ReformJudaism.org/homeseder for an adapted version of this resource created for use by congregants or for anyone who would like to run their own virtual seder. 

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