‘Twas the night before Passover, and no matzah could be found. I know, I know — what was I thinking, waiting until the last moment to prep for the most historical seder in Jewish American history? The fancy grocery store in my Brooklyn neighborhood was stocked with boxes of matzah the day prior, so I have to assume I wasn’t the only one scouring for unleavened bread at the last minute.
Used to whipping up a feast for a gaggle of guests, my mom, feeling uneasy without the last-minute craziness that is holiday cooking, had a vat of matzah ball soup on the stove and a tray of tzimmes and chicken in the oven at her home on the Upper East Side — enough food to feed the 25+ Passover party we would join that evening for the inaugural Zoom seder (though of course, way too much for being the only member in her household). I FaceTimed her for her special nut-free haroset recipe — crumbled matzah, diced apples, and Manischewitz — which, ultimately, I couldn’t prepare because of my grave mistake.
Without matzah, brisket, nor a drop of Manischewitz, the Passover pandemic started to sink in. But, drawing on my badass biblical babe Miriam’s knack for optimism, I got to work. Shadowing my mama, I whipped up a batch of mashed potatoes, a pot of matzah ball soup (from a mix I ordered months before Passover), the most delicious fig-glazed chicken legs, and a tray of roasted asparagus. If I couldn’t have matzah, a seder plate, or the kids’ table with my cousins, at least I could maintain a sense of normalcy in this Twilight Zone seder by cooking the most elaborate meal I’ve ever made.
As per usual, I was running late to the 6:30 p.m. Zoom seder. I rushed to my room, sat my fat glass of wine (and a cup of water for Miriam) down on my floor desk, licked some remaining fig glaze off my finger, and joined the RoseKapCoTini — a mash-up of my extended family’s last names — annual seder. Set on Brady Bunch-style view, the historical dinner was exactly as you’d imagine: total mishegas. But it was also the most fantastic, hilarious, memorable seder I’ve ever been to (followed closely by last year’s 4/20 seder with my cousin, *wink*).
My uncles might disagree. With a delayed start time after arguing over whether we should use a Hebrew or English version of the haggadah, my mom’s brothers grew impatient, kicking the seder off in the most Jewish way possible: disgruntled, drenched in neurosis, and hangry for even just a spoonful of egg soup. Hundreds of miles away from my family, I already felt like I was at the family seder table in Westchester. And with side-table texts from my cousin group chat, I was truly transported to the kids’ table where I belong.
The zeder (yes, that’s the new term for a Zoom seder) was a tug of war between the patriarchs and my three brothers. Wary of my savta — a 92-year-old Israeli Upper East Side transplant — and her short attention span, my uncles begged us to hasten the pace and cut corners. After all, the Zoom invitation was called “Savta’s Seder.” And boy, was it. My resilient, child-prodigy violinist grandmother, whose Zoom name was mysteriously “Pkk,” talked throughout the entire seder, commenting on her grandchildren’s new hairstyles to her nurse aide beside her. For some reason, her volume was the loudest, making her chit-chat more audible than the designated reader trudging through the story of Exodus. “Hellooooo, do you hear me?” my savta said throughout the hour-long call, with only a finger wiggling in front of the camera and her ginger head bobbing in view. I trust you read her quote in an old-timey, Israeli grandmother voice. If you didn’t, try again.
That night was different from all others, but my youngest cousin, a senior in high school, couldn’t evade her duty to sing the Four Questions. As soon as she began, my savta chimed in, and, dear readers, it was fucking beautiful. The juxtaposition of Alexandra, my beautiful little cousin, singing abashedly, with my grandmother, our family’s matriarch, harmonizing (yes, a stretch) in full confidence despite her sons’ pleas to “let her sing alone, Ma!” made me smile silly. Like Tinkerbell, my savta withers away without attention, so after a stream of incessant “can we eat yet?” and “can anyone see me?” questions, her engagement melted my heart and painted a picture of the very reason we jumped through hoops to keep the seder alive: l’dor v’dor. From generation to generation, it’s our duty to keep the tradition alive.
The highlight of my zeder is probably the same as many others: watching my grandmother try to figure out Zoom. There were challenges, of course, like echoing Ma Lecha Hayam with an audio lag, and bottling my enthusiasm so as not to elongate the seder. But between my savta’s comedic relief, my uncles heckling my siblings like Statler and Waldrof (the two old guys from The Muppet Show), and the dinner costume party (I dressed like Hugh Hefner; my cousin donned a wizard hat; everyone else wore a miscellaneous mask), Passover 2020 will go down in my history book — AKA, my diary — as the greatest seder there ever was.
For the first time in five years, all members of the RoseKapCoTini family were in attendance for the seder— there were no boyfriends to distract us from holiday obligations or college/medical school graduations to attend. The zeder was a means to retain seder normalcy, but for us, it also offered a rare opportunity to be a perfectly normal, dysfunctional Jewish family, together.
Living through this COVID-19 pandemic is indescribable, but that’s a job for historians to document in the many books to come. I’m still struggling to eloquently capture the eerie parallel of telling the story of Jewish freedom under coronavirus, but I do have one solid idea: Next year, in Jerusalem or not, I’ll be adding a USB with our recorded zeder to the seder plate as reminder of the strength of the diaspora, from generation to generation, in good times and bad.
And if you’d like to do the same but you forgot to record yours, don’t worry, I’ll send you mine — after The Prince of Egypt, it’s the ultimate Passover movie.
Image by Ksenia Zvezdina/Getty Images