May No One Go Unseen: A Passover of Connection

How will we – Jews, loved ones, and allies – observe Passover this year? During this plague of biblical proportions that has robbed us of our freedom to be together, how will we find meaning and belonging during our most communal of holidays?

There have always been people left behind at Passover – invisible, alone, uninvited. This year we are all a part of that group, unable to sit at someone else’s table. We are faced with an adaptive challenge like no other: how can we design togetherness into our pandemic Passover?

There’s no shortage of online Passover resources and tips to hold virtual seders, and there are numerous zoom seders to join. We’ve got the content and we’re starting to master the technology (there’s always the telephone!). Now let’s make sure we design for connection so that all of us feel seen, heard, and included this Passover.

A Roadmap for Belonging

Over the past two weeks, the Federation has convened over 100 Jewish professionals and lay leaders (by Zoom) to re-think how we build community and care for each other in this time of distance. It’s led to some inspiring creativity, built on 10 core principles that are guaranteed to expand and deepen belonging.

  1. Start with belonging as a goal. Design anything with the intention to increase belonging, connection, and trust.
  2. Build structured practices into group activities. Don’t rely on random chance or a friendly person to ensure that everyone feels included. Instead agree on group practices that define how we meet, celebrate, and take care of each other.
  3. Establish rituals that build confidence and group identity through repeated, shared customs.
  4. Define common purpose so each person plays a role in shaping and sustaining the group’s larger mission.
  5. Prioritize face-to-face interaction. While meeting in person is preferred over technology, there are great tools available like Zoom and FaceTime that can build connection in simple ways.
  6. Create fixed small groups that gather regularly and help individuals connect to each other and the larger organization on a deeper level.
  7. Encourage multi-dimensional sharing and doing. Structure activities for people to get to know each other on multiple levels and experience different aspects of life together.
  8. Focus on assets over needs. Ask “what does each person have to offer?” and give each a role to play, based on their unique talents, identities, and contributions.
  9. Shift from delivering services to inviting ownership by treating people as partners rather than customers.
  10. Cultivate group identity and pride. Explore ways to express the group's uniqueness. By creating a sense of pride and celebrating milestones.

Start with intention or “Kavanah.”

What if we began with an ambitious goal: that no one should go unseen over Passover? How might we use these design principles to really see each other and make meaningful, authentic connections around the holiday?

Here are some of the creative ways people are incorporating belonging principles to meet the challenge.

Focus on assets over needs.

A Jewish professional has traditionally brought Passover seder and programming to nursing homes across her county. With care facilities on lock-down and privacy laws preventing her from identifying Jewish residents, she struggled with how she and her volunteers could bring Passover to these isolated seniors.

Her solution: focus on assets over needs – in this case, the activity directors who are desperate to support their residents while keeping them safe. She plans to invite activity directors to a Zoom gathering to meet each other, check in on how they’re doing, and offer support. She’ll then share a letter with her phone number for them to print and distribute to Jewish residents and their families, inviting them to call her if they’d like a volunteer to provide Passover support by phone.

Many synagogues and organizations have set up phone trees, assigning members to call each other to offer support and companionship over the holiday – not just once but repeatedly, getting to know each other over time. Even those who are lonely and isolated can pick up a phone and reach out to someone else. Everyone is in need, but everyone has something to give, too.

Shift from delivering services to inviting ownership.

Seders have always been creative and interactive, with participants taking turns reading or acting out parts. But this year, some seder organizers are taking it a step further, giving up control and sharing responsibility for every aspect of the experience.

One 28-year-old who lives alone invited friends and family from across the country to a pre-dinner Zoom seder. Each is assigned a section to create and lead, using whatever Haggadah they choose (the host has offered suggested resources). They can gather responses by chat box, play videos, assign break-out rooms for discussion, sing and dance together, wear costumes, even give Tzedakah (charity) together. Bringing participants into the design process instills ownership, connection, and pride.

Focus on ritual and structured practices.

Passover is rich with ritual, much of which can be adapted and reinvented to meet the challenge of isolation and our dependence on technology. It’s likely that Passover will never be the same, that we will find ourselves creating new ways of marking meaning together that will be infused in our Passover practices for years to come.

However you structure your seder, make sure you open with a question or conversation that encourages everyone to share something authentic and unique about themselves. “Why is this night different than other nights?” will have special significance this year.

We see you.

The end is not yet in sight and while we wait, people are suffering. Let’s take this holiday of redemption as a challenge: to make each of us visible in our isolation, to see each other and feel seen, to really care for each other in ways we’ve never imagined before.

We see you: preschool teachers and day school leaders, harried working parents and single moms with toddlers on their laps, seniors and young adults living alone, those whose jobs have already disappeared, high school and college seniors in mourning for their lost graduation, camp counselors and JCC employees, families afflicted with domestic violence.

We see you: Jews of every color and identity, allies and family members of other faiths, young and old and all ages in between.

We see you and invite you to our seder table.

Wendy Verba is the Federation's Managing Director of Community Impact. She leads the Federation’s efforts to build a Culture of Belonging throughout the Bay Area Jewish ecosystem. Inspiration and input for this article provided by the Federation’s Culture of Belonging team (Maia Tchetchik, Julie Golde, Lauren Schlezinger, and Sadie Simon), and “belonging visionaries” Sarale Shadmi-Wortman, Varda Rabin, Rachel Gildiner, Debbi Cooper, and Beth Cousens.

Categories: Holidays, Community


April 02, 2020