by CEH Member Barry Altman (father of CEH Member Elisa Rosman)
As with most Jewish families, Passover is always a very special time for us, with everyone looking forward to getting together. Assignments are generally carried over from year to year; Grandma Rita will make the kneidlach (matzoh balls), Grandma Grace will make the horseradish, etc. But this year was different. Our first night seder was “intimate” with Zoomers joining from as near as North Arlington and as far as Florida and Utah. We ate outdoors on the Rosman’s fantastic new porch, and there was tradition and good times, tempered by the adaptations required by the circumstances. Given the situation, it was a marvelous affair.
For the second night of Passover, we attended the Etz Hayim Zoom seder. For our family, this was a real throw-back event. When Elisa and her sister were growing up in Southern California, our second night of Passover was always the Temple Beth Ohr congregational seder. Of course, it was live and in person, not via Zoom. It was held in the social hall of the synagogue which is quite similar to the CEH social hall. We would go around the large table taking turns reciting parts from the Maxwell House Haggadah, and of course the evening was always punctuated by a rousing rendition of Chad Gad’ya. I remember Cantor Bloom speeding up each verse ever so slightly so that by the end of the song we were all gasping for breath trying to keep up with him. As you can tell from my writing, it was always a great evening.
So you can imagine how happy we were to find that CEH was resurrecting the concept of a second night congregational seder. And it did not disappoint. There were forty or so “Zoom screens,” so you guesstimate the number of people. Led by our irrepressible Rav Natan, the energy level was high and the sense of ruach (spirit) was palpable even through the computer screens. Dan had set up a large screen at one end of the table, and a couple of us Zoomed in on our personal screens to share some of the moments “up close” with our remote mishpachah (family). Rav Natan was the “ruach leader,” taking us through the seder, honoring the ancient traditions, while giving a nod to the world around us. As is usual, participants led various portions of the Seder. The gang at the Rosman home led the four questions, and others joined in other parts as we went through the Kveller Haggadah – “A Seder for Curious Kids (and Their Grownups).” This particular Haggadah was an ideal blend of the traditional story and contemporary language. As part of the introduction, it explains that we traditionally teach about the Exodus not by “…studying maps, memorizing dates and taking quizzes.” Instead, “we do it by telling stories.”
But Rav Natan took storytelling to a new level which was my personal highlight of the evening. After going through the first portion of the seder – lighting the candles, hand-washing, describing the items on the seder plate, etc. – it was time for the “telling of the Passover story,” the Magid. Traditionally, this is where participants take turns reading from the Haggadah. There are lots of “henceforths, therefores, thees, and thous.” Eyes glaze over. Young ones start to act out, and everyone starts thinking about their favorite delicacy that is about to be served. But not this year; not at the CEH seder.
Instead, Rav Natan described a Pesach version of the “yes, and” improv game. If you are not familiar with it, “yes, and….” is a tactic of improvisational comedy that requires that a participant accept what another participant has stated (“yes”) and then expand upon it (“and…”). A volunteer would start the story with the telling of Joseph coming into Egypt. When he or she was done, a second volunteer would pick up with “yes, and….” and continue the story until the Exodus was complete, and Moses and the Israelites were well on the way into their forty-year journey to the Promised Land. I was stunned by the breadth and depth of knowledge among our congregants. There were lots of laughs, but no eyes glazing over. Not this year. There was indeed something very special about this event. In this particular year, as we look forward to our own individual and communal release from the bondage of The Pandemic, it was special to look back and celebrate together with our CEH family. Next year, if not in Jerusalem, at least together in person, at the synagogue. Chag Sameach.