The Levin family’s seder table last year
The Levin family’s seder table last year

Many gear up to celebrate another virtual Passover; others plan small seders.

Last year, a headline in the Passover edition of the Jewish News optimistically predicted, “Passover 2020: Next Year in Person; This Year on Zoom.”

Now, almost a year later, the number of COVID cases and deaths related to the virus is decreasing, and the number of vaccines administered is slowly increasing. But we have a long way to go before putting this pandemic behind us.

So, once again, for many, seders will remain virtual. 

“I have two family members in my immediate family who have underlying conditions. I cannot take the chance of either one getting sick,” said Wendy Arnold, a Farmington Hills resident who will spend Passover with her husband and three children. “While I have been fully vaccinated, the rest of my family has not. Once the weather gets warmer, we can have grandparents on the deck, but until then, no one comes in.”

Shayna Levin, husband, Jeff, with Andrew and Hannah
Shayna Levin, husband, Jeff, with Andrew and Hannah

Last year, we had very little time to shift our seders to online gatherings or scale back to more intimate family meals. On April 8, the first night of Passover, we sat down in quarantine to read from the Haggadah. The holiday started 16 days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order mandating that all Michigan residents stay home. Exceptions were made for essential workers or going out for necessities such as food and gas or taking care of a loved one.

Because Passover was the first Jewish holiday to occur during the pandemic, it served as a model for all the celebrations to come. We adapted quickly and learned that it was possible to gather through technology and make a holiday meaningful, although not preferable.

While last year’s Passover headline turned out to be a mostly inaccurate prediction, now — with much less stringent gathering restrictions and the availability of the vaccine to the more vulnerable — some families are looking forward to hosting or attending a Passover seder.

Shayna Levin of Commerce Township said that because her in-laws were vaccinated in January, they are now planning to celebrate Passover together. They did, however, request a smaller seder. So, instead of the 25-30 people she typically hosts, her family, her in-laws, and her sister-in-law’s family will be the only ones celebrating together.

“We are glad our families have reached a level of comfort where celebrations can continue,” Levin said. “We plan to make this year’s Passover one where we celebrate freedom, the ability to be together and the promise that next year we will be together again.”

Last year, Elayne Moss of Southfield ended up delivering a lot of care packages to the dozens of people who were expected to be sitting around her seder table. She prepared and froze much of her food in anticipation of the 200-plus dinners and lunches she and her sister Terry Schwartz typically serve to family and friends throughout the week of Passover. 

When it was time to read from the Haggadah in 2020, Moss and her husband, Barry, were together. They joined the rest of their extended family virtually. This year, they won’t host their typical seder, but they will have a few more guests at the dinner table.

“There will probably be eight of us together, but we will still Zoom with everyone else,” said Moss. She added that everyone will have received their second dose of the vaccine at least two weeks before the start of Passover.

Risk Factors

For those who plan to gather in person, Dr. Carl Lauter, an infectious disease and allergy immunology physician at Beaumont Health and professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, offers some advice on how to approach Passover this year.

“The biggest mistake people can make is to think that the vaccine is a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It’s far from that,” he said.

For those considering an in-person seder, Lauter suggests thinking about who will be seated around the table. Based on his recommendation, there should actually be multiple tables to ensure adequate social distancing.

Last year’s Moss Zoom seder.
Last year’s Moss Zoom seder.

Some of the factors to consider when planning for the holiday include looking at who will be there. Will there be kids? What about older adults or others who are regarded as high risk?

“My advice is to forget the vaccine. Social distance because we don’t have herd immunity yet. You can get together, but it’s the old caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. The vaccine is no guarantee.

“Until we get herd immunity, we still have to social distance, and we still have to wear a mask. So how do you eat when you’re wearing a mask? It only works if you’re in a facility that has pretty decent ventilation, or you can open the doors and windows and let fresh air circulate,” said Lauter. “I wish it was easier. But right now, it’s not. We’re stuck.”

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