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Preparing for a ‘Zoom’ Seder

This year won’t be the first time my family conducts a Passover Seder via video: Last year my niece Daphne spent her junior year in high school in China, so at 7 a.m. local time on the first day of Passover she joined our family Seder via FaceTime.

I scanned our Haggadah and emailed her the PDF so she could follow along and participate.  The technology worked flawlessly and it was as if she were right there with us.

This year, I envision setting the entire table with devices to beam in my mother and stepdad from Pennsylvania, sister and her crew in San Francisco, and Daphne, her sister and father (my brother) in New Jersey, to my home in Massachusetts, where I expect we’ll all still be sheltering in place. (The first day of Passover this year was April 9.)

Everyone will have to prepare their own matzo ball soup (the recipe on the back of the box of Manischewitz matzo ball mix is the best, though they are lighter if you separate the whites of the eggs and beat them until fluffy before combining).

Some years I make fancy charoset from the Sephardic cookbook I have, using dates or figs or other dried fruit.  But this feels like a year to do straight-up Grandma recipes: apples and walnuts and cinnamon and wine, nothing more.

The dinner itself is an afterthought. After the Hillel Sandwich (the charoset, mixed with horseradish, on a piece of matzo), the soup, the hard-boiled eggs (nobody in my family actually eats those except me) and have a couple glasses of wine, who’s hungry?

But brisket with roasted potatoes and green beans (maybe with olive oil and lemon zest) is always welcome, and the Instant Pot makes the brisket easy.

Other must-haves: macaroons, preferably straight out of the can, and matzo toffee (Grandma didn’t make that one, but it’s become a staple): Melt butter and brown sugar to make a syrup that you will pour on top of a layer of matzo. Bake it for a few minutes until it sets and then sprinkle crumbled chocolate and pecans on top while it’s still hot. The chocolate will melt and merge with the toffee syrup. A bit of fancy salt or cayenne tops it off.

If I’m the host, I’ll insist we use the same Haggadah we used last year and every year since my children were little. It’s meant for kids, so the language is simple but beautiful, reminding us that the Passover story, the journey from slavery to freedom, didn’t happen somewhere else to other people; it’s a journey we are taking together, right now.

There may be a few dark jokes this year when we get to the part about the Ten Plagues, but by connecting to our far-flung family, and knowing that people everywhere around the world are telling the same story and passing its message — that we must work together for a better world for all people — to the next generation, we will survive this plague and any that may come our way in the future.


Jenny Hansell was a 20-year resident of Sharon, Conn., and now lives near Northampton, Mass., where she is starting a garden, forming an Indigo Girls cover band with her kids, and definitely NOT raising chickens. Not right now, anyway.

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