PHOTO: Congregation Beth Israel clergy meet via Zoom using CBI Passover Zoom backgrounds, a collection of which can be downloaded at bethisrael-pdx.org/passover.
BY DEBORAH MOON
Passover will be the first major Jewish holiday that will be celebrated for the second time under pandemic restrictions.
Since Pesach is traditionally home-based, it is perhaps the easiest Jewish holiday to adapt to our new landscape. Still, it has been a challenging experience for individuals and congregations. But we have learned a lot about the virtual world over the past year, and some silver linings have appeared.
People traditionally come together in large groups of family and friends for a seder on the first night of Passover, and many congregations offer a community seder on the second night. Last year, Oregon restrictions on gatherings began about three weeks before Passover, disrupting seder plans.
Many congregations canceled their community seders last year.
Congregation Neveh Shalom, however, moved its in-person community seder to Zoom with Rabbi Eve Posen as the lead and experienced an incredible turnout.
“For the first time since I left home, I was able to have seder with my family across the country AND be present for my congregation here in Portland,” says Rabbi Posen, highlighting one of the key silver linings of virtual life – the ability to “gather” with loved ones who live far away.
Congregation Shaarie Torah Executive Director Jemi Kostiner Mansfield noticed the same advantage: “Families and friends from out of town can come together on a virtual platform, people who normally wouldn’t be around the seder table.”
Shaarie Torah normally hosts a second night seder, but chose to cancel last year and instead tried to match people up for Zoom seders, offering tips and tricks on leading one. They plan to do the same this year.
Congregation Beth Israel also shifted its holiday focus to virtual experiences.
“Last year, we quickly pivoted our Passover experiences to an online platform and held a congregational seder for the first time in many years,” says Rabbi Rachel Joseph. “It was the early days of Zoom when people were still trying to figure out how to be together – physically distanced but spiritually connected. We craved connection, and it was a joy to be together on the screen.”
Building on last year’s experiences, this Passover many organizations and congregations are hosting virtual seders or offering resources so congregants can host virtual seders for family and friends. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has compiled a page of local and national resources available at
Cedar Sinai Park has a Plan A and Plan B for seders on the senior living campus, where the vast majority of residents and staff have been fully vaccinated.
“We are cautiously optimistic that we can have small gatherings of residents for Passover seders,” says Cathy Zheutlin, CSP spiritual life coordinator. “Plan A allows for small seders, one in each household, one for Post-Acute and four at Rose Schnitzer Manor. The seders at RSM in the dining rooms are being led by Rabbi Sara Rinson and Rabbi Barry Cohen, both of whom are fully vaccinated chaplains.”
No guests will be invited to this year’s seders.
“Residents know that we have a Plan A and Plan B,” Cathy adds. Plan B exists in case someone tests positive for COVID or if the state or CDC issue more stringent guidelines on gatherings before Pesach.
“Given Plan A and Plan B, it feels either like living in a Dr. Seuss book or exiting from Egypt with no time to prepare,” says Cathy. “This year is different from all other years.”
Beth Israel’s Rabbi Joseph agrees this is a different year from all others, as well as from last year.
“This year feels different,” says Rabbi Joseph. “Why is this Passover different from last Passover? Because this year, the CDC said it is OK for vaccinated grandparents to hug their grandchildren. Because this year, while our seder tables are smaller, while we still incorporate Zoom, we also open our doors to hope. Because this year, we can truly say these words from the Passover Haggadah: Matchil b’ganut u’mesaim b’shevach – You begin with the bad news, but you end with the good news. We don’t deny the bad, the difficult, we don’t ignore it, but we say that’s only the beginning, and the end is going to be an ending of hope.”
This year, in addition to a second night virtual seder, Rabbi Joseph is leading a noon, March 17, workshop on how to make an online seder meaningful for your whole family. Last spring, it was a scramble to get ready for the Passover holiday in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we’ve had a year to learn tips and tricks. Beth Israel has a variety of resources, including Zoom Passover backgrounds, available on its website at
Neveh Shalom also brings back its virtual seder experience drawing on the lessons of last year. “We’ve learned how to use the technology to our advantage by inviting participants to prepare sections in advance,” says Rabbi Posen.
Neveh Shalom’s community seder will be on Zoom and will feature a CNS Community Haggadah comprising video, writing and art from all generations of its congregation. Nonmembers are welcome to join the Zoom seder at 6 pm, March 28. Seder registration and other resources are available at nevehshalom.org/passover/.
Havurah Shalom, which offered virtual seders last year, is organizing a limited number of virtual seders for the first and second nights for members. This year, the congregation added music recordings, recipes and additional resource links on its website.
With an ever evolving, and for now, seemingly improving situation on the pandemic, the CNS Health Workgroup, Reopening Task Force and Executive Committee has agreed to open the doors of its sanctuary to members for Yom Tov Pesach services for up to 12 congregants with preregistration. There are, of course, health and safety protocols that must be agreed to and followed, and preregistration/confirmation is required.
Congregation Kesser Israel will also offer in-person services, as they have over the past year when state guidelines have permitted.
“We offer both indoor and outdoor live services, with masks and distancing,” says Kesser Rabbi Kenneth Brodkin, adding the congregation does not host a community seder. “In addition, our weekday services are livestreamed.”
Kesser also created a “Seder Map” to guide people who are just learning how to make the seder, step by step. The Orthodox congregation also has developed a three-part learning series for Pesach (see next page).
“Over the past year, we have focused a lot on reaching different people with different needs in different ways,” says Rabbi Brodkin. “In the ‘old days,’ everyone just came to Shul. Now, with the pandemic, we are trying to offer an array of programs that meets different needs simultaneously. All of our learning and inspiration takes place online live and is also offered as podcasts.”
“The virtual world has really pushed us to offer a wider array of offerings,” says Rabbi Brodkin. “Personally, I’m really excited about Kesser’s weekly podcast, the Torah Journey. This podcast helps people find the next step in their Jewish journey.”
Beit Yosef, an Orthodox Sephardic congregation, also plans in-person services for Shabbat and the first two days of Pesach. The congregation will set up a tent adjacent to the open doors of its building to combine indoor and outdoor open-air seating.
“We will not be hosting a community seder,” says Beit Yosef President Benaya Laws. “That will be left for families to conduct in their own homes.”
This year, as families sit down with their relatives at the table or on Zoom, Rabbi Posen suggests they consider: “Last year we were slaves, this year we are free is a common theme of the Haggadah and Passover narrative. What were you a slave to in pre-pandemic living and how have you been made free from it?”
Kosher Passover Meals To-Go
Century Catering will once again offer Kosher Passover Meals To-Go the week of March 21. “Crazy to think it’s been a year since we started this tradition,” says Allen Levin, owner of Century Catering, Cafe at the J (currently closed) and Garbanzo’s Food Cart in the parking lot of the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Allen has worked to ensure kosher meals remain available during pandemic restrictions.
Each seder meal comes with charoset, horseradish to grate, gefilte fish, matzah ball soup (chicken or vegetable broth) and flourless chocolate cake. Choose from one of four main dishes: herb-roasted chicken, slow-cooked brisket, roasted lemon-dill salmon or stuffed portobella mushroom – all of which come with vegetable sides.
An assortment of side dishes is also available a la carte.
Orders are due by midnight on Sunday, March 21, and the meals will be ready for pickup on Thursday, March 25, between 3 and 5 pm at the MJCC turnaround, 6651 SW Capitol Hwy., Portland.
Order: centurycateringholiday.square.site/ or you can email your order to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full menu will be posted on square site and at oregonjcc.org/about-us/cafe-at-the-j.
Chabad Northeast offers Seders-To-Go
Chabad of Northeast Portland will again offer seders-to-go. Order by Sunday, March 21, with pickup (delivery available) Friday, March 26.
Each box includes three matzahs for one seder, English/Hebrew Haggadah, step-by-step guide to the seder, kiddush cup, seder plate items (limited supply), wine and a seder dinner of matzah ball soup and brisket with sweet carrots, zucchini and potatoes.
Kesser Israel offers virtual Pesach prep series
Congregation Kesser Israel invites the community to join Rabbi Ken Brodkin for a three-part series in preparation for Pesach. He will present three drashot (discussions) at 8 pm, March 18 and 24 and April 1, on Zoom.
“This year, we are going to be doing a learning series on Pesach that includes study of the Haggadah, how to have Shalom Bayit on Pesach, as well as study of the Song of Songs, which is read in synagogue on Passover,” says Rabbi Brodkin.
“On Thursday, March 18, we will be discussing The Essential Haggadah Lesson,” he adds. “In that learning session, we will look at the most important thing about the Pesach seder and how to do it. The essential lesson revolves around engagement. We need to engage ourselves, our kids and all of those around us, and we will be looking at what engagement is all about.”
On March 24, attention turns to Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) on Erev Pesach (and beyond). Learn how to observe Erev Pesach on a Shabbat and keep your Shalom Bayit intact while you’re at it.
The third session on the Song of Songs will be held during the intermediate days of Passover. What’s Your Love Language? Lessons in love from Shir HaShirim will be April 1.
For the link for all drashot, email email@example.com.
Chocolate Seder on Zoom March 21
Make this your family’s sweetest Passover yet by joining Congregation Shaarie Torah for a Family Chocolate Seder Sunday, March 21, at 11 am.
Led by Dr. Sharon Pollin, we will be reminded that freedom is sweet as we make our way through mounds of M&M’s and Kit Kats, glug gallons of chocolate milk, and sing traditional and silly songs.
All CST Religious School families will receive a bag of most needed materials delivered to their home. Non-members will receive the supply list and Chocolate Haggadah upon registration. This event is free and open to the entire community. Register at shaarietorah.org/passover/.
Passover Storybook Trail March 21
Chabad Northeast is hosting a Passover Storybook Trail at Laurelhurst Park on March 21 to help families to prepare for Pesach.
Families can sign up for half-hour time slots between 2 and 4 pm. Capacity of each shift will be limited to ensure that social distancing and all safety precautions can be followed.
Families are invited to enjoy the great outdoors. Go back in time as you read the story of Passover and collect souvenirs along the way. At the end of the trail, participate in Passover arts and crafts.
Register for a time slot at Jewishnortheast.com/Storybooktrail.
Candy Seder March 21
Join B’nai B’rith Camp and Congregation Beth Israel to prepare your family for Passover the sweetest way possible at 4 pm, March 21, 2021, on Zoom.
The seder is suitable for grades 1-6. Reserve your kit (with candy enough for two) by March 18 and schedule a pickup in Portland.
Then Zoom in to snack and learn about the holiday on March 21.
Register at bethisrael-pdx.org/candy-seder-2021/
Neveh Shalom virtual seder March 28
Last year, Congregation Neveh Shalom quickly shifted its second night seder to a virtual event led by Rabbi Eve Posen. This year’s community seder will also be on Zoom and will feature a CNS Community Haggadah comprising video, writing and art from all generations of our congregation. Non-members are welcome to join Neveh Shalom’s ZOOM seder at 6 pm, March 28. Details can be found at nevehshalom.org/passover/.
Virtual Eugene Community Seder March 28
Attend the Temple Beth Israel (Eugene) Virtual Community Seder led by Rabbi Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein at 5:30 pm, March 28, on Zoom.
Enjoy a short second night seder with the community, then have dinner on your own.
The seder will use the Saratoga Haggadah, compiled years ago by Rabbi Ruhi Sophia’s parents. It takes more than 30 minutes, but not more than an hour, to get to the meal.
Before the seder, visit the Saturday, March 27, Pesach tips section at tbieugene.org/passover-2021/. Sign up by March 24.
Central Coast Virtual Seder March 30
This year’s Central Coast Community Seder will be a virtual event at 5:30 pm, March 30. B’nai B’rith Camp staff will lead a virtual seder with Passover activities and traditions.
BB Camp invites the Central Coast Jewish community for an evening of reflection and celebration from the comfort of your own home. The seder is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and PJ Library in Oregon.
When you register, get a list of ceremonial foods (in case you wish to participate in this way) or bring creative alternatives from what you have on hand.
Register: bit.ly/3qvV9qt. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shop for Passover essentials at the museum
The Ron Tonkin Family Museum Shop at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (724 NW Davis St.) is open for Passover shopping March 16-19 from 11 am-3 pm.
Along with beautiful Passover items, including Haggadot, seder plates and candles, the fully stocked gift shop offers books for children on Passover and other Jewish holidays, cookbooks, jewelry and special Judaica. Masks and social distancing are required.
OneTable offers Seder connections
OneTable, an organization that empowers people to envision new rituals and build community through Shabbat dinner experiences, is helping make the 2021 Passover seder possible. At a time when people are feeling isolated and in need of meaningful connection, OneTable is supporting people of all ages interested in hosting or attending virtual, household-based or outdoor socially distanced Passover gatherings.
“Passover is such a communal holiday experience filled with meaning and memories,” says Al Rosenberg, chief strategy officer of OneTable. “We learned a lot last year about the ways people can be creative and adapt ritual to make meaning in these times of distance. People may not gather together this year, but we can help create those personal connections and interactions that make Passover special, memorable and resonant today.”
Young adults (20s-30s) can turn to OneTable.org/passover if they’re interested in hosting or attending virtual, household-based or outdoor socially distanced Passover gatherings. OneTable extends this support to people of all ages through Herefor.com. These platforms offer financial and creative support for Passover gatherings, a way to connect and a place to share photos of and reflect on celebration. Resources include guides to group, solo and Shabbat seders, Haggadot, recipes, playlists and inspiration boards.
In the second year of the pandemic, the need for meaningful connection and ritual is greater than ever. Last year, OneTable and Seder2020 (now Herefor.org) supported more than 38,000 virtual Passover participants, building on a long history of facilitating meaningful engagements through its Shabbat dinner program.
More Passover Resources and Events
Visit jewishportland.org/passoverhappenings for more Passover resources and events. New events are being added as received.