With its glittering in-gathering of celebrities, jokes that worked and attendees who could, well, actually sing, it was the Zoom seder you wished you had.

The “Saturday Night Seder” that aired last Saturday night, Apr. 11, on YouTube on the fourth night of Passover brought together dozens of celebrities and raised $2.6 million for the CDC Foundation, the nonprofit wing of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government agency guiding America through the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the 50 entertainment luminaries who participated in the seder’s singing, traditional storytelling and comedic segments were Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Ben Platt, Bette Midler, Sarah Silverman, Cynthia Erivo, Henry Winker, Busy Philipps, Fran Drescher, Mayim Bialik, Joshua Malina, Daniel Levy, Andy Cohen, Finn Wolfhard and Whoopi Goldberg.

The broadcast, which drew more than 1 million viewers, had a distinctive liberal coastal Jewish outlook, informed by show biz sensibilities, which was natural enough: No one on the webcast claimed to speak for all Jews, or all American Jews, or for Jews in any frame.

Still, as a coming together of the Jewish community’s most visible Jews, the event offered insights about where American Jews are in the national thinking, or perhaps more precisely, where a lot of American Jews want to believe they are.

Here are four messages conveyed by the “Saturday Night Seder.”

Anyone Can Be Jewish

Jason Alexander, best known for his turn as George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” launched the proceedings with an upbeat ditty called “Dayenu” and welcomes co-choristers Darren Criss, Josh Groban and Rachel Brosnahan.

After Groban does a cantorial turn, Alexander praises him as “the greatest Jewish voice since Zero Mostel,” and Groban has to explain that no, he is not Jewish. Neither is Criss or Brosnahan.

Is that a problem? Brosnahan asks. Not at all, Alexander responds.

“Tonight, it doesn’t matter if you are or aren’t a Jew,” he said.

Of course, the concept of cultural appropriation complicates matters. Should the abled portray people with disabilities? Should cisgender people be cast in transgender roles?

Criss is a straight man whose best-known role, Blaine Anderson on “Glee,” was gay. It’s been an issue for non-Jewish actors who play Jews as well, as Brosnahan, an Irish American whose signature role is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” well knows.

Groban, in particular, is a complicated story: His father is a Jew who converted to Christianity when he married Groban’s mother. (Groban and Criss played Tevye in high school productions of “Fiddler on the Roof.”)

Folk icon Pete Seeger (Photo by Josef Schwarz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The producers of the “Saturday Night Seder” seem to conclude that appropriation is something to celebrate, not condemn. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon: Jews in the 1970s cheered Valerie Harper’s portrayal on TV of Rhoda Morgenstern, even though Harper was not Jewish, because the role was so positive. And if you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember dusty albums in your parents’ collection of Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis and Pete Seeger singing Jewish songs.

Belafonte and Seeger, notably, also were progressives, and their embrace of Jewish culture stems from a period when being Jewish was, at least in the public mind, identified with being on the left. Much of the “Saturday Night Passover Seder” includes nods to progressive politics.

For the Hollywood Jews who put together this seder, the opening is a callback to a time, perhaps more imagined than real, when Jews had a clear political home.

Being Jewish is Unique

So anyone can play at being Jewish, but understand, the cumulative historical experience is unique — and also has universal meaning.

Actors Richard Kind and Debra Messing, in recounting the story of the Exodus, note the ancientness of anti-Semitism.

“Hating Jews wasn’t a cliche then,” Messing said.

Actor Judith Light casts the composition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg as a deeply political repudiation of fascism, a yearning by American Jews for better times as Nazism cast its shadow over Europe. Spliced amid Ben Platt’s rendition of the song, Light calls the lyrics “near prophetic” and notes that the quintessential American movie it frames, “The Wizard of Oz,” opened on screens just two months after the Kristallnacht massacres in Europe.

Idina Menzel (Photo courtesy of A24, via JTA)

“Hear the lyrics in this context and suddenly the words are no longer about wizards and Oz, but about Jewish survival,” Light said.

She quotes Harburg to make the point that the particularism of Jewish suffering has infused the American sensibility, at least as it is understood by the folks writing and performing this seder.

“The Passover seder is devoted entirely to the fight for freedom,” Harburg said.

“Its allegorical significance transcends the Abrahamic faiths,” Reza Aslan, the Muslim scholar of religions, said of the seder. “The story of Exodus is the story of the movement from oppression to freedom.”

Jewish is a Communal Affair

The price of admission for the celebrity content was a series of mini-sermons by congregational rabbis interspersed throughout.

OK, the mini-sermons were compelling and easy to digest (insert matzoh joke here). What their presence at this seder conveys, however, is that doing Jewish isn’t just a gestalt, a cultural outlook for everyone to enjoy. It’s a communal affair. It’s why having to do a virtual seder is so heartbreaking, even as doing so opens new opportunities.

Rabbi Sharon Brous of the IKAR congregational community in Los Angeles describes the commandment to hold the seder every year as creating “the muscle memory for hope.”

That especially is brought home when Rabbi Dana Benson of Temple Beth Am in Seattle sings a medley of Passover parody songs including “Goodbye, goodbye, Mitzraim,” to the tune of “To Life,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Moses.”

The gentle humor is familiar to anyone who has ever sat through an American seder, but it was especially familiar to Barbara Sarshik, a congregant at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., who composed the lyrics and then posted them as part of her ongoing Passover song parody project. (She contacted the “Saturday Night Seder” organizers, who updated their website with credit.)

“It creates so much joy and togetherness to have people sing these words to familiar melodies,” a fan on Sarshik’s website wrote.

Next Year, Where?

Israel features throughout this seder, well, delicately. Benson said her favorite song is “BaShana Habaa” and she sings a bar or two. But she did not mention that the song of longing for peace was written by Nurit Hirsh and Ehud Manor after 1967’s Six Day War, resonating with Israelis who were relieved to survive a threat of extinction and longed for peace with their neighbors. She did not mention that it is Israeli at all.

Israeli flag

Israeli flags cropped up now and then behind a few of the young people who join in chorus for the Ma Nishtanah, but they were not acknowledged. Israel’s biggest role came during a monologue by Harvey Fierstein explaining why as a child he was nonplussed by the seder’s conclusion, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” which amounted to a kaleidoscope of American Jewish anxieties and longings about Israel. In Fierstein’s telling, Israel is simultaneously a necessity, a source of longing that can even be sexual, and an arid badland tainted by its association with President Donald Trump and his family.

“It’s hot, you’re surrounded by a vast majority of anti-Semites and all the cute soldiers in uniform are girls,” the playwright and performer said. “It made no sense to me that Jews would wanna go to Israel.”

But Fierstein said he has come to understand Jerusalem as a metaphor: “Next year, we will be in a world that is caring and supportive of its inhabitants.”

That led into an original song, “Next Year,” which concluded that phrase opening with a number of wishes (“We’ll breathe in the sky,” “The world will break open”) but with “Jerusalem” mentioned only once. Movingly, a number of Jewish medical professionals working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic described their longing for seders with family.

So was Israel forgotten? Not quite.

The final words were left to Alexander, who previously expressed an emphatic if critical affection for Israel: “Good night everybody, stay safe, stay healthy, stay inside, next year in Jerusalem.”

Ron Kampeas writes for the JTA global Jewish news source.