Why is this night different from all other nights? This question is asked every year at Pesach (Passover) and refers to the first Exodus from Egypt. This year, the question took on an entirely different meaning as Passover was celebrated virtually all over the world this year due to the COVID1-9 pandemic. In Israel, we celebrated virtually with social distancing, lockdown measures, and under a curfew.
Despite the lockdown and curfew, Israelis celebrated Passover in unique ways over the internet. Before COVID-19, we had about 9 people coming to our house for the Seder on Tuesday evening. After COVID-19 restrictions, seven people joined us for a virtual seder, which had to be adjusted slightly from one we hold face-to-face in our house most years. First off, we could not use our Haggadah that we wrote many years ago, but found one online so that all the participants could have a copy. Instead of one seder plate being lifted, there were three, one in each household. Another adaptation was that some did not have a shank bone because they could not purchase one, so they printed a picture of a bone and placed it on the seder plate. We still sang at the appropriate places, having to listen to each other carefully to be able to account for the slight lag. It brought laughter, which made the seder joyful.
Not everyone in Israel celebrated virtually. In one community, many brought their tables outside to the sidewalks and shared their celebrations from a distance, but still together. Some couples and families choose to have a small, intimate seder, while others, mostly elderly, were not able to share a seder with anyone because they live alone. Israel is a large family and these people living alone did not completely celebrate alone. At 8:30 in the evening, people went out onto their balconies and sang MaNishtana (Why is this night so different from all other nights) and other Pesach songs, for those who could not celebrate Passover with others. All over Israel thousands people came to share the evening with one another and to encourage those who were unable to celebrate with others and were home alone. People not only sang, but flashed the lights of their house and clapped, whistled and shouted. It was an amazing and incredible moment when Israel pulled together to share with each other. It was a highlight of the evening for me. Sitting here writing about it now brings tears to my eyes. Here is a YouTube video of an example:
Distance, lockdown, and curfew did not and cannot stop us from celebrating Pesach together. Yes, it was adjusted and we had to be creative, but Israelis’ sense of family and community celebrated together through our individual seders and by singing and rejoicing together. Though the night was different from all other nights, it was still one of love, encouragement and celebration.