Elayne Moss and her sister, Terry Schwartz, usually host about 35-40 people per seder, but not this year because of the coronavirus. (Courtesy of Elayne Moss)

COVID-19 is leading many families to downsize their typical Passover crowd or shift to virtual seders.

For sisters Elayne Moss and Terry Schwartz, Passover is a marathon event of cooking and entertaining. Together, they host an average of 35-40 people for each seder. Throughout the week, they pretty much have an open-door meal policy for family and friends. It’s a tradition that started during their childhoods.

Lunch guests average around 12 per day, and dinners are about the same, if not more. Do the math and, on the conservative side, they serve between 230 and 260 Passover meals.

Earlier this month, before the virus traversed the country, Moss made part of her Southfield kitchen kosher and completed most of her Passover baking. She also cooked dozens of meatballs and prepared four batches of chicken soup, each with 10 pounds of chicken boiled in a 16-quart pot. At the time, she had no idea her guest list was about to be reduced to three or four immediate family members.

Moss now plans on giving the soup and extra food to extended family and friends, whom she invited to drive by for carry-out.

Schwartz, who grew up in Metro Detroit and now lives in New York, said this is the first Passover the family will not be together. She and her husband will join Moss and the rest of their family for seder on Zoom, a videoconference service.

COVID-19 changes Passover plans for many families.
Hardworking hostesses: Sisters Terry Schwartz and Elayne Moss just before one of their usually massive seders. Courtesy Terry Schwartz

Recently, a group of Orthodox rabbis in Israel said they would permit the use of technology like Zoom to allow families to conduct a seder if it is turned on before the start of Passover.

Farmington Hills resident Lila Zorn was supposed to host her immediate and extended family — nearly 50 — for the first-night seder. Now they will gather via Zoom from their respective homes.

“At least we will be able to connect and not feel as isolated,” Zorn said. “The purpose of the seder is to teach your children. This year they’ll learn that you follow the rules (of social distancing), you respect everyone else and try to keep them safe, and you remember what’s important.”

Jacqueline Rose, a West Bloomfield native now living in Vermont, is among those who will have a laptop or cell phone at the seder table. This year marks the first time she, her husband and their two children (ages 10 and 12) will not be in West Bloomfield celebrating with her parents.

Rose said she will use Zoom the first night; the second night will most likely be limited to her immediate family. “I plan to crack out the seder plate I got for my wedding but never used,” she said.

Suellen Trionfi, on the other hand, is opting for a quiet seder with her partner, Kenneth Sidlow. “We’ll enjoy the holiday the best we can,” she said.

They spend half the year in Commerce Township and the other half in Sarasota. Currently, they are in Florida, where they typically stay until after Passover. It’s a holiday they traditionally celebrate with Sidlow’s brother and a group of friends.
“It’s a nice mix of Jews and non-Jews all learning and enjoying the holiday together,” she said.

Trionfi has five pounds of matzah and four gallons of frozen chicken soup. Like Moss, she will make care packages for the guests who should have been at her Passover table.

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