Last Wednesday my dear friend David invited me to a Passover Seder. The event was on a video conference, of course. David and his sister had planned the event and sent out a script of the service ahead of time. Their father, a Rabbi in Massachusetts, played a supporting role. Many family members read parts of the ritual.
Jews everywhere remember, through the Seder ritual, the time in their ancient past when they were enslaved in Egypt and gained their freedom. This version of the Seder included an explicit extension of that idea to today’s world: who is enslaved by poverty? by oppression? The Seder hosts did a beautiful job of maintaining the traditions of the Seder and updating them to be relevant today.
And above all, it was a family celebration in a time of COVID-19. Cousins and relatives in the Boston area, who would normally be at the same table, joined by Zoom instead. Other relatives, partners, in-laws, and friends (some Jewish, some not) joined from across the country, more than 25 in all. Mary and I participated from our apartment in Mount Pleasant. The most moving moment was when we could hear the voice of David’s grandmother, connecting by phone, joining the celebration and being with her loved ones on this high holy day.
I come from a family that’s Christian, not Jewish. We don’t practice any religious ritual in the family comparable to the Passover Seder. However, since the pandemic has confined us to our homes, my extended family has been gathering on weekly Zoom calls. My two sisters, two step-sisters, step-brother and two of my parents all participate (one calling in from England). We check in on each other’s health, and kids, and talk about daily life.
And we play O Heck.
It’s not a Passover Seder, but the card game O Heck is as close to a holy ritual as it gets in my family. Children learn the game at a young age; spouses and partners experience it as an intense initiation into the family; the game is played at every family reunion and most other gatherings. Playing on Zoom was a mild challenge, but one of my eldest sisters is a statistician and one is an actuary—no problem. The cards are dealt by computer into files in Google drive; a dedicated camera is set up to simulate the board where the cards are played--like watching a poker game on ESPN, but with a lot of laughing and joking instead of sums of money being wagered.
This familiar ritual is remarkably comforting. The feeling of love and family and tradition that go along with the game are the same across the miles as they are across the dining room table. I think that my friend David and his family would say the same thing about their virtual Passover Seder.
Yahweh, god of the Jewish people.
Spirit of Life and Love, however you are named or known across the Earth, be here now.
May every family – however defined and however separated – be blessed by love. May families know that they are connected to one another, children to parents, parents to grandparents, and on back through the centuries.
The struggle and triumph of the ancient Israelites is the struggle and triumph of everyone in the human family. May all families know resilience; may all families connect to meaningful tradition; may all families know laughter and joy.
May the Sokoll family be blessed. May the Frantz-Cook family be blessed. May every family on Earth be blessed, with no exceptions.
Amen. Shalom. Aho. Blessed be.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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