"These holidays are meant for us just to gather and love one another."

By Stacey Leasca
April 07, 2020
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Andrew Zimmern wants you to know this may be one of the most important Passover Seders yet.

At sundown on Wednesday, April 8, those of the Jewish faith will begin their observance of Passover with a traditional Seder dinner. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of attending the important meal, it includes lessons and stories paired with specific symbolic foods to share the history of Moses and Pharaoh before the enslaved Jews were freed from the Egyptians more than 3,000 years ago.

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Zimmern

However, due to the spread of the Coronavirus, people are finding it harder and harder to procure the specific ingredients like matzah, gefilte fish, and bitter herbs. Those same people are also making the difficult — but responsible — choice to stay away from seeing family and friends in-person this year and opting to connect for dinner virtually instead.

But, none of this matters to Zimmern. In fact, he says this year it’s imperative to still honor the tradition, even if you can’t get it quite right.

“The message I got from my rabbi is that the universe, the God of your understanding, the collective wisdom of hundreds of millions of Jews through history, are not frowning on us at this time. They're begging us to just keep the ritual alive,” Zimmern says. “All that matters is that we're sharing the time together.”

To help people celebrate and come together despite what’s happening in the world around us, Zimmern not only created a Passover guide, he also offered up the following advice.

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Zimmern

If you typically host, help out the rest of the family

“I know that there is a run on a lot of supplies and I'm sure there are lots of people who typically go over to Uncle Marty's house for Passover who this year are not,” Zimmerman says. But, if you happen to be the Uncle Marty of your family, he says you can still help your “guests” out. Simply act like you’re still hosting the big day in person. Pick out which platform you’ll connect on — Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facetime, etc. — then create menus for everyone along with instructions on how they can make each dish at home.

Test run connections

Speaking of connecting virtually, Zimmern suggests testing out which platform you and all your guests will use prior ahead of time. Write out instructions on how to connect so people of all technical abilities can easily join in.

“Pick a time and send a Zoom invite, it’s the easiest way to have a virtual conversation and experience with a larger group of people,” he says. And, as part of it all, assign people “jobs” for the call.

“You know how everyone's tech works differently and one's got a different laptop and a different, phone? Or someone's sitting too close to the phone, someone's too far away? Things that could just buzzkill the whole thing,” Zimmern says. “So one of the things that I thought about planning for mine was, let's have everyone have preassigned roles during the singing of certain songs, the saying of certain prayers. And let's celebrate that. Let's make sure that everyone is included and has a role to play during the actual order of the celebration.”

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Zimmern

Make it a special event anyway, even if you’re not together in person

Yes, it’s okay to wear sweatpants all day when you’re working from home, but just because you’re having a Seder in your house and over the internet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a little gussied up.

“Dress up, set a nice table, get flowers if you can find them, uncork that fancy wine you’ve been saving,” Zimmern says.

Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Zimmern

Still make a Seder meal even if it’s not all the right ingredients

“All the elements on the Seder plate, the ritual foods, all have a double meaning,” Zimmern shares, noting the bitter herbs are meant to “remind us of the bitterness of our tears and experience.” However, if you can’t find the exact herbs that’s fine, because it’s really the thought that counts. Instead, turn to other bitter or tangy ingredients as Zimmern suggests like “a lemon, a lime, a hot pepper, or dried pepper.”

Be okay with change

Put simply, holidays and traditions will be different this year. Though it’s okay to feel sad, it’s important that the show goes on.

“The fact of the matter is that this year’s Seder is different from every other year,” he says. “My rabbi said to me, ‘Focus on the spirit rather than on the letter of the law.’ This Passover, she was encouraging us to remain safe and healthy and, L'Shana Haba'ah — which is Hebrew for next year — we can all gather around our tables together in peace.”

To all the naysayers who are planning to skip online celebrations, Zimmern says “why not” join?

“To me, this is the biggest no brainer in the history of no brainers. I think that this pandemic is a great reminder that at its very root, these holidays are meant for us just to gather and love one another. And that's the most important thing. Just participating in that virtual moment of nodding our heads together and sharing that love in that memory.”

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.