When Jewish Life Goes Viral: Solo Seder

When Jewish Life Goes Viral: Solo Seder

Children joined the world's largest model Seder at CKids' Virtual Hebrew School.

by Liba Rimler

April 6, 2020

In this multimedia mini-series, we look at Chabad’s response to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Jewish life events. In this, part five, Chabad representatives have drawn on their creativity to empower those leading their own solo Seder.

Celebrating the Passover Seder is a hallmark Jewish experience. Under typical conditions, it’s a family event, a multigenerational gathering. Others rely on their community Seders led by their rabbis. For many, this year will be the first time they will be conducting a Seder on their own and Chabad representatives everywhere are helping individuals and families who’ve never done it, pull it off.

Manya Lazaroff of Chabad at Texas A&M University is responding to the situation with guidance for mind, spirit, and soul. Students would rely on coming to her Chabad House’s Seder each year.

This year, she’s teaching them the ropes so that they can make it on their own. Through one-on-one consults, Lazaroff is guiding students through the process of making their kitchens kosher for Passover, and conducting their own Seders.

“We’re addressing this from all angles,” she says. “We coordinated two Zoom conferences with a local psychologist for advice on dealing with emotional underpinnings. Aside from the practical support, people are looking for ways to make this meaningful. In every crisis one can find opportunity for growth and learning.

“Although we’re not in this situation by choice, we are looking at this time as a chance to empower students. Until now, they have been on the receiving end. They’ve been participants. This year, there is a powerful shift taking place. People are returning to the fundamentals of home and family,” Lazaroff notes.

As student Samantha Mallen says, “This year I was thrown in the deep end of having to set up Shabbat and get my house ready for Passover myself. I had to take a step forward that I wouldn’t have had to do for another year if not for all of this, and it is forcing me to grow in a lot of ways.”

Devorah Gancz of Chabad of Suffern, New York had to innovate. “We were supposed to have a live cooking demonstration with Shifra Klein to inspire people to cook for their Passover Seder and make it beautiful.”

In the end, the event took place over Zoom. Gancz invited fellow Chabad emissaries  from other communities to join forces. In addition to her community in Suffern, people participated from Orange County, New York; New City, New York; Knoxville, Tennessee; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Gainesville, Virginia; and Cherry Creek, Colorado.

“Communities came together, something which could never have been accomplished had we done it live,” Gancz remarks. “This event gave everyone a much-needed boost.”

Zalmy Loewenthal, CKids director, has coordinated a global initiative to educate the children. 

“Our Virtual Hebrew School receives 20-30,000 hits each week. Our Model Seder was a huge project, featuring children from Russia, United Kingdom, Australia, Cayman Islands, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, United States, Ukraine, and India.”

The CKids International Model Seder brought the Seder to life, with interactive challenges and a downloadable Haggadah for the children to use at home. Children from international countries videoed themselves presenting their assigned step of the Seder. The Seder ended off with a video clip of a child from Israel inviting everyone to come join him to celebrate the Seder in Jerusalem.

Dovid Weinbaum, principal of CKids Hebrew School, says that this project was the work of a dedicated team of thinkers, writers, and producers.

“It was a very challenging initiative to undertake. On one hand, you have children from different backgrounds and perspectives to consider. How can you engage them all equally? But ultimately, we found that we have common ground. As I tell the children, Torah is the one thing has always been and will always remain unchanging. This is the secret to our unity.”

The Virtual Seder featured “The Greatest Mah Nishtana,” a montage of children all over the world reciting the Four Questions. 

“We want people to know that they can make their own Seder at home. What is providential is that this happened on Sunday, on the Rebbe’s birthday. This was the Rebbe’s vision. With all his activities as leader of world Jewry, his love for children was a focal point of it all. While coronavirus has brought darkness to the world, we are seeing tremendous light from the unity of Jewish children learning together.”

Watch 'When Jewish Life Goes Viral: Solo Seder' with Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor of Chabad of Thailand, here:

Chabad representatives lead a Seder prep cooking demo over zoom.

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