Skyping into the Seder: When Technology and Holidays Meet

6 years ago

Jack and Estelle and their family unofficially "adopted" me about 30 years ago, and we have became family. I have participated in almost every Passover seder with their family since then. These have largely been in NYC. This year (for a variety of reasons) I am unable to join them all at their son Daniel and his wife Leora's home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I put on a brave face, but my heart was hurting.

These people have seen me though the past 30 years. I've been to weddings of their sons, a baby naming, a bris and more. We've visited each other in hospitals, had adventures together, grieved together and have shared laughter, scholarship and love. This family is a treasure to me, a gift straight from God. My blood family has all died, with the exception of an 89-year-old cousin. This family and their wonderful Passover assemblage IS my family. To be without them on such a spiritually important day for all of us made me feel sad and very alone.

So Danny, once a bookish and sweet 14-year-old who now, many years later, has a PhD and a wonderful wife, came up with a fabulous idea. I WILL attend the Seder after all --- via Skype! We tested it out today. Here are pictures of Daniel and Leora taken from Skype.

Jack and Estelle have mailed me a copy of the family Haggadah (the order of the Passover liturgy) so that I can both follow along and participate. Their other fine son, Ezra, the elder son (also a PhD) and his smart and dear wife Randi will be there with their two children. So it's a full family event.

Today I got used to Skype for the first time, and we discussed where I would "sit." Apparently my screen-self will be available for view at some point around the table. So a seat will be set for me, and my Skype'd image will be able to see wherever the camera is pointing. I will be in my home's basement, in my office, looking back at everyone with deep gratitude.

Of course now I need to find the ingredients for a proper menu. I know I will cook beef tsimmis (a wonderful blend of carrots, beef short ribs and yams, cooked forever), homemade chicken soup with home made matzoh balls, and some asparagus. The complex items -- where to find a good frozen gefilte fish near me. The problem being that I am not going to make it from scratch for one person, and I have been spoiled by Jack's home made version, which is made with over 20 pounds of ground winter carp mixed with ground onions and carrots and more and cooked in a fish stock made from the dearly departed carp's head and bones. It is a giant labor of love to cook, and it makes no sense to cook just a little. The frozen gefilte loafs are not bad at all, although miles from the cold and yummy amazingness of Jack's.

I need to be a purist about the horseradish, so I will grind my own this year. I'll also make my own haroset -- a lovely mix of chopped apples, pecans, walnuts and cinnamon, to remind us of the mortar used to make bricks by the enslaved Israelites in Egypt.

So all that and a couple of other things will a seder semblance make, so at least I can (in my non-Kosher way) mirror with love the seder of my family. I will show them the food on Skype so they can laugh with me.

There is a point in the seder that always mystified me... it is at a moment where the door of the home is opened to welcome Elijah. And what is said at that time? A psalm that asks God to lay waste our enemies. That always puzzled me -- why at the happiest moment of the seder do we hurl this prayer out of our doors around the world. Then I read some commentaries and it hit me.

For so many years and in so many places, Jews have had to hide their faith, have had to risk torture and death because of it, but tonight we open the door wide, unafraid, we are with our family and our family is with God. Elijah is on his way. Tonight at least, we are a whole people, so if we have enemies they can try and get to us, but they will fail. We open the door as a free people, united in love and faith. In that we have our strength.

Since we set up the Skype this morning, I have been delighted. As the years wore on, it became traditional that I would be allowed to read one special section of the seder liturgy. I love this section, which is called "The Great Hillel" and is a full tilt praise prayer full of joy. I'll close with a brief part of it here...

...You are the G-d of the first and of the last generations, G-d of all creatures, L-rd of all events, who is extolled with manifold praises, who directs His world with kindness and His creatures with compassion. Behold, the L-rd neither slumbers nor sleeps. He arouses the sleepers and awakens the slumberous, gives speech to the mute, releases the bound, supports the falling and raises up those who are bowed.

To You alone we give thanks. Even if our mouths were filled with song as the sea, and our tongues with joyous singing like the multitudes of its waves, and our lips with praise like the expanse of the sky; and our eyes shining like the sun and the moon, and our hands spread out like the eagles of heaven, and our feet swift like deer we would still be unable to thank You L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our parents, and to bless Your Name, for even one of the thousands of millions, and myriads of myriads, of favors, miracles and wonders which You have done for us and for those before us. L-rd, our G-d.

So, on April 18th, when I in Massachusetts and my family in Michigan sit down for seder, I'll also pray for many blessings for you all.

Do you observe Passover? How do you celebrate it? Please share some favorite Passover memories.

~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool

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