Keep Seder Simple: FAQs for Your Virtual Passover

by Allison Friedman and Rabbi Ilana Zietman / March 30, 2020

passover faq

This year, Passover is bringing along with it an entirely new set of questions that extend far beyond the traditional four. For starters: How do I cook a seder meal for just one or two people? How do I host my own virtual seder? Can I get a Passover Haggadah for free? I’m sick of video chatting – can I just have a meaningful seder on my own? Where do I even begin?

Not to fret. Gather is here to answer your most pressing Passover-during-a-global-pandemic related questions and remind you to #KEEPSEDERSIMPLE this year. And, if you have major “screen fatigue” and don’t want to read this – here is a summary: Eat/drink the Passover symbols, tell the story, and ask questions. It truly doesn’t have to get any more complicated than that.

For more info, check out our 2020 Passover Guide.

Food and Drinks

seder plate

Q: What am I not allowed to eat/drink on Passover again? 

A: You can’t eat anything containing wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has fermented and risen. Another word for this is “chametz” (ha-metz). Beyond bread, pasta, and Oreos, this includes most beers, bourbons, whiskeys, gins, and wheat-based vodkas. 

Q: What can I eat and drink?

A: Fruits, veggies, eggs, nuts, quinoa, some meat, fish, dairy, and – matzah! There is some debate about whether or not you can eat legumes, beans, peas, rice, millet, corn, and seeds. These foods are called “kitniyot” (kit-nee-oat) and some choose to abstain from them during Passover, some don’t. More on this here. For beverages, you can drink most wines, potato-based vodkas, rum, tequila, sodas (without corn syrup if you’re avoiding kitniyot), juices – and ALL forms of water. 

Q: How do I cook a seder meal for just myself or a few people?

A: Keep in mind that anything you make can be consumed for the entire eight days of Passover – so no need to skimp on portion sizes. Just pick a few dishes you really want to make, and make them as called for.

Who doesn’t love having delicious leftovers for teleworking lunches and easy dinners? Here are some traditional seder recipes ideas to get you started and there are tons more here. If it will help to have a cooking buddy, set up a time to prep your meal while tele-connecting to a friend or relative who preps theirs.

#KeepSederSimple Tip: Don’t worry about making an elaborate four-course meal to recreate your Bubbie’s cooking, just pour some wine/grape juice and eat the symbols.

Q: Where can I find very simple versions of Passover recipes I can make?

A: Here are simple versions of charoset, horseradish, matzo ball soup, roasted tzimmies, brisket with Insta Pot, Potato Kugel, Potato Latkes, Quinoa Salad, Apple Cake, Brownies, and Caramel Chocolate Matzo Brittle. Boom – you got yourself a delicious and complete Passover meal!

Q: What is a seder plate and what goes on it?

A: This one minute video will show you. If you don’t feel like leaving this page:

  • Karpas (Parsley): It symbolizes the emerging of spring. Ashkenazi custom is to dip it in salt water and Sephardi custom is to dip it in vinegar.
  • Charoset (Sweet Fruit Paste): A mix of sweet fruits, honey, and nuts that symbolizes he mortar Israelites used to construct buildings for Pharaoh
  • Maror (Bitter Herb): Usually horseradish to illustrate the bitterness of slavery
  • Zeroa (Shankbone): Symbolizes the lamb that Jews sacrificed as the special Passover offering when the Temple stood in Jerusalem
  • Beitzah (Egg): Represents the cycle of life and hope for new beginning

Q: Have you seen the grocery store shelves lately?! What can I can substitute for the traditional seder plate staples?

A: Here’s some ideas: 

  • Karpas – Any vegetable like parsley, carrot sticks, celery or a piece of roasted potato 
  • Charoset – Any combo of sweet fruit, nuts, and honey or agave, even jam will do 
  • Maror – A bitter lettuce like romaine or mustard greens, hot peppers, fresh lemon or ginger
  • Zeroa – Roasted beet
  • Beitzah – Avocado pit

More info here.

Q: I don’t trust my cooking skills! Where can I order Passover foods from?

A: You can get delicious Passover food for take-out or delivery from local DMV restaurants and caterers like Balducci’s, Bread Furst, Char Bar, Equinox, Moti’s, Provisions, Shalom Kosher, Soupergirl, and Ridgewell’s. You can also head to Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, or Safeway to get some mixes, matzo, and other ingredients for a “semi-homemade” Passover meal.

#KeepSederSimple Tip: Make a matzah peanut butter & jelly sandwich or matzah pizza. Basically zero cooking skills required, and zero judgement.

Q: All of that seems expensive, how can I get some financial support to help me out?

A: Yes. OneTable is offering nourishment options to local restaurants and grocery stores for those hosting virtual Passover seders. Sign up to host here.

Q: How can I make traditional versions of Passover foods that are vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free?

A: Here are the 9 best vegan Passover recipes and here are gluten free recipes. Side note: You can also use a vegan themed Haggadah!

Q: Why does the seder include drinking four cups of wine?

A: The four cups of wine mark the four verbs God used to describe our liberation from Egypt: See Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God.”

Q: I don’t drink alcohol, what can I use in place of the wine?

A: Try a non-alcoholic wine like Fre’s merlot or red blend. For kosher options – get some Martinelli sparkling grape juice, Kedem kosher grape juice, or the classic Welch’s. Honestly so delicious.

Hosting Seder

hosting zoom

Q: I’m thinking of hosting my own virtual seder this year, where do I begin?

A: Gather what you can find for a makeshift seder plate. Tell the Passover story (we recommend the first few chapters of Exodus, it’s a classic!). Ask some questions.

#KeepSederSimple Tip: Download a free Haggadah. Send the downloadable link to your friends/family who will be joining you for seder virtually, and have everyone take turns reading. 

Q: What Haggadah should I use?

A: Totally your call. There are a ton of options available for free download here. Some are shorter, some are longer, and some have fun themes like chocolate, earth justice, and comedy. If you’re feeling really ambitious and have some time on your hands – you can make your own! Just make sure to send whichever one you choose to the seder participants in advance.

Q: What platform should I use to host a virtual seder?

A: We vote for Zoom. There’s also Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Facebook Live (if you want to create a more open and public seder).

Q: How can I make my virtual seder fun and interactive?

A: Sing songs, do skits to tell the story, listen to music, play Passover charades, try a seder drinking game (e.g. take a sip anytime some says “Moses”), find the afikomen virtually by creating a “Where’s Waldo” type picture to share on the screen (instead of Waldo it’s a piece of matzo, get it?) – and the winner gets a gift card to a local restaurant, and/or email a few simple food or drink recipes in advance so you can “share” in them together.

#KeepSederSimple Tip: Or don’t. If seder comes and you’re feeling angry, tired, sad, hopeless, or any other perfectly okay human emotion to be feeling right now – give yourself permission to let go of our creative plans, and go back to the basics. Eat and drink the symbols. Tell the story. Ask questions.

Q: How can I make Passover more meaningful and relevant for myself and people attending?

A: Imagine you are leaving your own personal “Egypt.” Reflect on the areas of your life where you do not feel free and discuss how to find freedom. As a group, talk about your responsibility in supporting the freedom of others by asking meaningful questions, thinking about acts of service to do after the seder, read a relevant poem, or utilize social justice-themed readings over 4 cups of wine/grape juice. It’s also important to express gratitude for the freedoms we do have. Encourage participants to take a few moments to share what they’re grateful for, including one another. 

Q: I’m kind of tired of the whole virtual hangout thing. How can I have a meaningful Passover experience on my own at home – no technology involved. 

A: We totally get it. Check out this Solo Seder Guide for some ideas, print your own Haggadah or order one online, make a simple seder plate, drink wine or grape juice, and eat some matzah (preferably covered in chocolate). Voila! 

Attending Seder

wine cheers

Q: I don’t want to host. Where can I find some virtual seders to attend?

A: GatherDC’s Passover Guide has a list and OneTable has a bunch! Email if you want some guidance on the different seder options and what might be the best fit for you.

Q: What’s a nice way I can express my gratitude to the seder host?

A: Send a thank you e-card. If they live locally, email them a gift card to a DMV-area restaurant or consider dropping off a kosher-for-Passover dish at their doorstep with a thank you note. If they are not local, ship them any of these thoughtful gifts

#KeepSederSimple Tip: Lend your skills to express gratitude. Tech savvy? Coordinate the Zoom link. Amateur comedian? Make people laugh at different points during seder that feel appropriate. Beautiful singer? Lead attendees in a Passover song.

Passover 101

seder 101

Q: Can you just give me a quick recap about what Passover is again and why we celebrate?

A: Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were enslaved in Egypt. Pharaoh Forced the Israelites into harsh labor and decreed that all Israelite boys be killed at birth. Because of the courage of midwives, mothers, sisters, and princesses, an Israelite boy named Moses was saved and he grew to protest the injustices all around him. God sought him out to deliver the people from slavery and lead them out to freedom. Through a series of plagues and miracles, the people left and began a new journey, one that we are still on today. 

#KeepSederSimple Tip: Watch The Rugrats Passover episode (season 3, episode 26).

Q: What are some traditional Passover customs?

A: One is to give up bread and other leavened products for eight days. This is in memory of the dough that didn’t have time to rise when the Israelites fled Egypt. We also celebrate with a seder on the first and/or second night, a meal full of ritual and conversation surrounding the themes of Passover. During the daytime at the beginning and end of the festival period, it’s customary to attend synagogue services and sing songs of joy.

Q: What are unique and alternative ways to celebrate?

A: As Jews moved and lived around the world, they developed all kinds of Passover seder rituals. For example, Jews from Persia lightly hit each other with scallions during the singing of Dayeinu to symbolize the slaves being whipped in Egypt. Jews from Syria take the matzah from the seder table and place it in a bag that they carry over their shoulders around the table while the leader asks, “What are you carrying, where are you coming from and where are you going?” Or our favorite, Jews from Hungary decorate their table with gold and silver jewelry to commemorate the precious metals the Egyptians gave the Israelites to hasten their exodus from Egypt. You can also theme your seder around topics like social change, LGBTQ history, feminism, etc. 

Q: Who is Elijah and why does he want to come over for seder?

A: Elijah was a prophet. Jewish tradition says he will announce the coming of the messiah, which many Jews interpret as a time of complete peace. We invite him to our seder as a way to express hope for a time when all humans will see the good in each other and strive to live as one.

Have more questions that we didn’t answer? Email them here.