Passover Seder amid coronavirus: Traditions, togetherness and tech tweaks

Charoset — a meal combination of apples, honey, wine, nuts — is symbolic of clay Jews used as mortar while enslaved in Egypt. (Courtesy Facebook/We Love Jewish Food)

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins Wednesday evening at sundown, but in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, this year’s tradition-filled celebration of the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt will have one major difference — in many cases people won’t be in the same room.

Northern Virginia resident Harris Bookfor, who runs the “We Love Jewish Food” Facebook group is taking part in a virtual Seder.

“We have eight houses that are going to attend. We wrote a mini-Haggadah [which guides the ritualistic telling of the Passover story] that was sent out to everyone, with the Zoom invitation,” Bookfor said. “There will be people there from 4-years-old to senior citizens.”

Many celebrating Passover, and the Christian holiday of Easter, will be using Zoom, and other video chat platforms to help participants celebrate together.

“Every time we’ve ever met as a family, cellphones were banned from the table — this time is going to totally different,” Bookfor said. “There will be devices all over the table — it’s a one-year exception.”

Bookfor said this year, with grocery stores scrambling to keep some items in stock during widespread stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19, shopping for the Seder posed challenges.

“Some of the places we called wouldn’t allow us to place online orders,” Bookfor said. “They were sold out.”

While it took a bit more work, the traditional Seder menu has come together.

“It’s your typical Seder plate, matzo ball soup, chopped liver, brisket, chicken, charoset, and lots of desserts.”

Charoset is symbolic of the clay Jews used as mortar while enslaved in Egypt.

“It’s apples, honey, wine, dates, nuts — that’s the basic ingredients,” Bookfor said, although the recipe is often slightly altered.

On the ongoing debate of whether the preferred consistency of matzo balls — served in chicken soup toward the beginning of the meal — should be dense or fluffy, Bookfor said. “It’s always cannonballs in our house.”

But, he realizes not everyone agrees with him. “I’ll cheat and make some of them with seltzer, to have big floaters — that’s what we call them.”

During Passover, Jews avoid the use of cake flour.

“The most popular dessert, by far, is what we call matzo crack — it’s matzo that has either caramel, or sugar, or chocolate on it, and it’s baked in the oven,” he said.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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