As we in the Jewish community prepare to celebrate the holiday of Passover, the Festival of Freedom, starting on the evening of Apr. 8, we know quite well that this year is not like any other. 

In fact, the great distress and unease that many of us are feeling and living with during this time mirrors the same emotions that the original Passover celebrants felt so many years ago. 

That means that this year, it will be far easier to fulfill the Haggadah’s mandate that we imagine ourselves as though we, too, left from Egypt.

Let’s use that point to enhance our seders this year.

Social distancing has caused all of us to reimagine how we might conduct the Passover seder. Many of us will either be leading a seder for the very first time or at the very least be in charge of our own location while participating virtually. 

The first thing that I want to say about the seder this year is that whatever you do is great. Do not worry about the length, form, overall content and other things that might usually consume your seder preparation in a normative year. 

I think the best place to begin is by asking yourself, family and friends what they need from the seder this year. The answers to this question will greatly inform your seder experience. 

Here are a few suggestions for your seder — virtual and otherwise –this year:

  1. Pick and Choose: Find the elements of the seder and Haggadah that you love the most and stick to them. The seder will likely be shorter this year, so there is no reason not to adhere to your personal version of the “greatest hits.”
  2. Use English: Do not be afraid to use English if the crowd wants it. You can conduct the seder in whatever language you choose, even though many of us are comfortable in the Hebrew.
  3. Zoom Participation: Zoom is a wonderful video-conferencing platform that right now we can almost view like manna from heaven. However, when multiple participants are singing together from different locations, the sound gets, well, kind of tricky. Have different users lead different parts and you can mute everyone else. They can all still sing and read along, but it will just only be audible from one locale. 
  4. Plan Ahead: Even with a shortened seder, it is very important to plan ahead.  Assign people various responsibilities and tasks for the seder in advance. It will keep you and them busy.
  5. Relax and Enjoy: Just remember to relax and enjoy the experience the holiday. Needless to say, this seder is unlike any we all have ever experienced, and it is important that people are able to smile, laugh, eat and enjoy themselves as a break from what is going on in the world right now

For many people, Moses is the epicenter of the Passover story. But this year, I am reminded of our great prophetess Miriam, who had the faith to bring her timbrel on the journey out of Egypt.

Miriam believed in her heart that the people would have a time in the future to dance and celebrate.

May her example shine down as a reminder for us all that good days are still ahead.

Rabbi Joshua Z. Gruenberg

Rabbi Joshua Z. Gruenberg is the senior spiritual leader at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville. On Tuesday, Apr. 7, from 7-7:50 p.m., he will lead an interactive session on how conduct a virtual seder for the first time. For information about the workshop and other Chizuk Amuno’s “Passover University’ virtual classes, visit chizukamuno.org/virtual/.