Seder Distancing: Passover in the Time of COVID-19

by Itay Balely / April 6, 2020

seder supplies

Every Passover, my family has a tradition of taking hard boiled eggs and coloring them with silly caricatures and other decorations. I actually remember getting angry as a kid that we were depleting my marker set. During Passover seder, with everyone gathered around the big dinner table, we would sneak up and crack an egg on someone’s head as a sign of good luck. Some of us were definitely more gentle than others.

Because of the coronavirus lockdown, this is the first year of my life that I will be celebrating Passover without my family around.

Sitting on the floor of my room, hand deep inside a bag of Lindor chocolates – clearly struggling with the isolation – I started thinking about how our current COVID-19 circumstance relates to the holiday of Passover. 

  • How paradoxical is it that as we bring up the Jewish people fleeing their oppressors, we are sheltering in place and social distancing? 
  • How ironic that while we talk about the ten plagues brought down on the people of Egypt, we are also trying to curb the effects of a modern day plague (the COVID-19 virus), the long-lasting impact of which we have yet to comprehend? 
  • How can we juxtapose reading in the Haggadah of God “delivering us” to the promised land during the seder with literally ordering delivery and take-out (thanks, Grubhub)? 

Like many of us, I am also still trying to make sense of this situation and what a solitary Passover will look like. Apropos, the urge to yell “let my people go” feels very real. 

I’m no rabbi or religious leader by any stretch of the imagination, but I did remember this phrase from the Haggadah that we repeat over and over during the holiday – and more slurred after some wine: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” It is traditionally said to emphasize the importance of retelling our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt, because without it, our entire faith would have remained enslaved. 

To a lot of us, this particular Passover is different from all other Passovers. We are separated from those whom we love and share this tradition with us. That being said, there has to be a silver lining of experiencing this tradition in a new way. Through grappling with this new normal, it’s been helpful for me to think about what we can gain from a different perspective on something we all know so well.

Although we are physically distancing, we are not socially alone. How many more people have we been able to connect with in these past few weeks that we do not usually make the time to see or talk to? 

My soon-to-be 81 year old grandmother living in Israel is learning FaceTime and Zoom for the first time! My upside is that this year, with a more concentrated effort to adapt to a virtual seder to keep her (and the rest of the family) safe and healthy, I am able to join my Israeli family for Passover seder for the first time in decades! Even more upside, this year’s seders can’t really drag on until the end of time because Zoom fatigue is a very real thing.

It may seem like a distraction to concentrate on finding positivity, but we must remember that distance cannot stop us from connecting. If anything, watching the entirety of The Circle on Netflix prepared us for exactly this moment.

We have the opportunity to see our culture and celebration in a new light and take on a new viewpoint to understand exactly why it is so meaningful to get together with our loved ones. Modifying our mindset can help us navigate this unknown. 

Passover is a time to celebrate and be thankful for who we are and where we are. We all have to “wake up and smell the matzah” to find the levity in this time to get through it all together. 

Meanwhile, you all can feel sorry for my unsuspecting roommate who may have a hard boiled egg cracked on their head without understanding why. 

Happy Passover!



itayAbout the author: Itay Balely is a DMV-area local and works in the civil rights non-profit world in DC. He is a proud Israeli and loves listening to records on his record player. When he’s not watching his trash TV (particularly MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge), you can find him HUJI-ing on different DC rooftops.







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