Although most U.S. states are under stay-at-home orders and people are encouraged to practice social distance measures, that doesn't preclude Jewish Americans from celebrating one of their most significant holidays of the year: Passover.
Pesach, as it's called in Hebrew, is observed from sundown Wednesday to April 16. The traditional Passover seder (or ceremonial dinner) includes specific symbolic foods and biblical plot points about what happened with Moses and Pharaoh before God freed the enslaved Jews more than 3,000 years ago.
The Passover story, with its focus on plagues and hardship, feels particularly poignant in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.
But how does one honor the holiday when resources for food are limited and there are public health orders against welcoming people into your home?
USA TODAY talked with Jason Leivenberg, who leads an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater LA called NuRoots, about how to host a modernized seder while under quarantine.
First off: Is video chat kosher?
For certain denominations of Judaism, using electricity on Shabbat and other Jewish holidays is a no-no. But there are prominent groups of Orthodox and Conservative rabbis who have OK'd the use of video chat just for this year, with the Rabbinical Assembly noting that "ideally, the video option should be accessed in a way that does not involve direct interaction with an electronic device." (i.e., Siri could potentially be used to activate the stream.)
If you decide to use video conferencing as part of your Passover, Leivenberg recommends Zoom, which he and his Jewish Federation colleagues successfully used recently with more than 100 attendees for an abbreviated seder.
How to get set up on Zoom
In order to use Zoom, you'll need a laptop or computer with a webcam, an accessory webcam, a smartphone or a tablet with a built-in camera.
Begin by going to the Zoom website or downloading the app and registering your account. From there, once registered, click "Host a Meeting" and send out the invite URL to others to join. (Or you can await your invite on the other side, if you're a participant. The meeting can be joined on a host of devices.) Invitees don't even need to be on a laptop, or use the app. They can simply call in on a phone number as well.
In order to make sure your conference isn't easily hacked, adjust the screen share options under "Advanced settings" so that only the host can share the screen. (Read more about privacy measures to take while using Zoom here.)
You can get creative on camera
Make sure you do an audio test and have decent lighting before you start your Passover call. If you don't like your regular background, go to "Preferences" and consider uploading a photo or maybe a themed graphic that you can use as a Zoom background.
"There's opportunities in Zoom for you to raise your hand or ask a question or use the chat box," Leivenberg says. "If you have enough time to prep, you could technically change your virtual background as you're telling the Passover story."
Another benefit to Zoom: You can share your screen and allow others to read from your Haggadah. But if you want everyone to have their own copy of the seder guide, send PDFs around (see next item).
Share digital Haggadahs with virtual guests
Although Leivenberg already mailed his family and friends the same Haggadah for his virtual seder, but for those who didn't get a chance to plan so far ahead he suggests sending attendees the same online Haggadah. One free option is available on Haggadot.com, a site that lets users create their own Passover book to download and print.
Don't stress over the seder plate
Food supplies are limited and multiple trips to the grocery store are discouraged these days. So instead of worrying about having every seder plate item, Leivenberg suggests reimagining the harder-to-get foods.
For example, instead of tracking down a shankbone, try a roasted carrot.
"Roasted carrots symbolize not just the animal sacrifice of ancient times – which is what the shank bone is supposed to symbolize – but also the value of sensitivity to nature," he says.
Leivenberg's NuRoots group offers plenty of other plate replacement ideas online, and other Jewish organizations have additional suggestions for plate items with modern meanings, from a spoon to an orange.
The menu can be simple
Passover foods are still available in many supermarkets and the largest retailers of matzo — Kayco, which counts Manischewitz as well as Yehuda matzos among its offerings; and Streit's — say they have plenty of product. However, that doesn't mean your menu needs to be several courses of complicated kosher foods. Your ingredient list is likely limited.
As for Leivenberg, he's planning to make matzo ball soup but knows he's missing vegetables that the recipe calls for. That's OK, he says, because the dinner meal should be open to interpretation: "Make whatever is going to make you feel nourished."
Hide the afikomen a bit differently
No, you won't be able to physically hide the afikomen, or dessert matzo, for people to find in your home. So what do you do?
Leivenberg offers an idea he heard at a Haggadot.com webinar: Pick a hiding place in your mind and play '20 Questions' to have people guess where the afikomen is, whether it be a place in the house that everyone knows or somewhere in the world, "Carmen Sandiego"-style. You could also hide the afikomen in your own "Where's Waldo?" drawing or inside a self-made wordsearch puzzle.
Remember what you're celebrating
"Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery into Egypt," Leivenberg says. "The holiday really is a lot about redemption and resilience and community and regrowth."
Today, amid global uncertainty, it seems especially important to celebrate those themes.
Contributing: Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY, Jeanne Muchnick, Rockland/Westchester Journal News