Last year Shearith Israel planned, as they do every year, to hold a Young Family Seder in person. But when the pandemic hit, Rabbi Shira Wallach and Rabbi Adam Roffman ran the Seder from their living room couch on Facebook Live. Without the joy of families in attendance, the seder felt very one-way.
Now, a year into virtual community experiences, Wallach knew she wanted to offer families something different. She gathered a team of parents to help her craft an interactive, virtual Seder experience that broke the fourth wall. “Our team brought unlimited creativity, generosity and joy to this project,” she said. The seder was held on the second night of Passover, Sunday, March 28.
Before the Zoom seder, each family was invited to pick up a seder box, an elaborate kit of specialty items, along with a Haggadah, to be used throughout the hourlong event. The box provided myriad items to help everyone in the family participate in a fun and funny retelling of the Passover story.
One popular item was the Seder Bingo card, which allowed families to keep a checklist of service milestones, like the four questions and items on the Seder plate. One unique item was a Create-Your-Own-Passover-Kaleidoscope-Kit. Many of the plagues — blood, frogs and locusts — were represented and the activity afforded everyone the chance to participate. Wallach had children and adults take turns crushing matzah into crumbs for the base of the kaleidoscope. “When it was the parent’s turn, to add some levity, I told them crush the matzoh like this year has crushed our souls,” said Wallach. “But I believe the seder marked a turning point and we can be optimistic about the trajectory of the pandemic!”
One favorite tradition from past years, when everyone was in-person, was when Wallach rewarded people who answered questions with a marshmallow tossed to them from across the room. Wallach didn’t let a little thing like actual distance stop her. This year, when someone answered a question, she tossed a marshmallow at the camera. Parents, given a supply of marshmallows in their Seder boxes, could toss them at their kids. Hannah Roffman, Wallach’s 5-year-old daughter home on spring break, piped in, “I like to catch them in my mouth.”
Hopefully, this was the last Young Family Seder that will be held virtually. But the humor and musical sequences that the group shared made it feel like they really had gathered together. “In the service, when we came to the Four Questions, everyone unmuted themselves and the entire group asked together in a wonderful cacophony of singing and shouting, from young and old voices,” said Wallach
This year’s turnout, 27 families, was the largest gathering for the event to date. “Over this past year, our families have come to trust that Shearith Israel will be thoughtful and intentional when we create meaningful spaces for virtual gathering,” Wallach explained. “I also think we really need these joyful touchpoints that signal the passage of time — no matter what’s happening out in the world, there were so many kids who led “Ma Nishtanah” for the first time this year. And we need to celebrate that! With marshmallows,” she added.
Wallach and Roffman thank Sarah Katz, Family & Youth coordinator, and the volunteer team — Staci Reznik, Chelsie Kastriner, Sarah Davis, Lindsay Applebaum, Melissa Goldberg and Roee Lazebnik, who helped plan the engaging event.