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Jewish Families Embrace Digital Passover Seder During Social Isolation

The Cook, Littman and Puretz families join together for a digital Passover Seder using Zoom.
Ryan Lindsay
Connecticut Public Radio
The Cook, Littman and Puretz families join together for a digital Passover Seder using Zoom.

For many Jewish families, staying safe and staying home because of the coronavirusmeant that this year's Passover dinner took place using technology.

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Arleen Cook -- Nana to her eight grandchildren -- is known for her signature veal chops breaded with crushed matzo crackers and brisket. But since coronavirus hit Connecticut and Fairfield County particularly hard, Cook, who’s 73, has been staying away from grocery stores.

Ordering brisket and veal became too much of a hassle but she did make her signature matzo ball chicken soup for everyone.

Earlier in the day, one of her daughters, Tara Littman-Cook left her home in Fairfield to pick up soup from Nana’s house in Easton for her husband and their three teenagers. She said it's upsetting that they can't all be together but she realizes how fortunate they are.

“Because of what's going on, I'm tired, I'm drained—emotionally, physically. There was a part of me that just felt like screw it, I'm not going to worry about the holiday this year, I'm not going to do the holiday this year,” Littman-Cook said, “but then I realized that's totally the wrong attitude and we have to continue the traditions.”

Hours later, using Zoom, Littman-Cook connected with her family: Nana, Papoo, Littman-Cook’s sister Peri Cook and her three children used two iPads at the Cook household; Littman-Cook’s other sister Jeni Cook-Mack, her husband Ben, and their two children tuned in from their home down the street in Easton and Uncle Julian and Aunt Judy Puretz joined from Rochester, NY.

The four families all lit candles and began their digital dinner with Kaddesh U-R'Hatz, the song that outlines the order of the Seder service. Then, Ed Cook, better known as Papoo, took the lead for what he called a unique Passover.

“We're all not physically together but we all are spiritually together and emotionally together,” Ed Cook said. “We all have the same feelings and worries and concerns, and at the same time all the happiness that we're here and that we're sheltered.”

The service went on for about an hour. Trying to keep the attention of eight hungry kids and teenagers amidst readings, songs and prayers wasn't an easy task.

At one point, marshmallows—used to symbolize the plague of hail that rained down upon the Egyptians when they ruled over the Israelites—began to fly across tables in multiple households.

The family joked that coronavirus is the eleventh plague.

But rather than dwelling on the plagues, each family member took turns sharing what they’re thankful for. Among their lists of gratitude: health, safety, technology, Amazon, Call of Duty, thunderstorms, and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Tara's husband Owen Littman told everyone he thinks it's something they'll never forget.

“When you think about it, every year at the Seder, we tell the same story over and over again. It’s the story of the Jews being slaves in Egypt,” Littman said. “I actually think given the timing of the coronavirus, we're likely from this point forward to tell the story about this particular Seder almost every year going forward.”

Though Nana couldn’t treat her family to all of her signature dishes, she quickly quieted all her grandchildren to listen to her read Dinosaur on Passover before they logged off Zoom to eat dinner.

And for these families, one message resonated more than it ever had before.

“Remember the bitter, remember the good, remember the sweet.”

Copyright 2020 Connecticut Public Radio

Ryan Lindsay has been asking questions since she figured how to say her first few words. She eventually figured out that journalism is the profession where you can and should always ask questions. While an undergraduate at Northwestern, Ryan worked as a local reporter in Topeka, KS, and reported for the Medill Justice Project, formerly known as the Medill Innocence Project. While at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, she covered arts, culture and criminal justice in Oakland for The East Bay Express and Oakland North. She has also freelanced for The Athletic Bay Area, covering the on & off-the-court lives of Golden State Warriors players. Through the Prison University Project, Ryan taught journalism & storytelling to students at San Quentin State Prison.
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