The coronavirus lockdown hasn’t dampened my social life. The invites keep coming.
Don’t assume I’m ignoring all the government mandates and congregating in secret with rooms full of people, like those rule-flaunting Spring Breakers.
My family, friends and I are taking this shelter-in-place edict seriously; we’re just congregating online. No global pandemic can stop our get-togethers.
With flights cancelled, and bars and restaurants shut down across the country in an effort to control the spread of coronavirus cases, virtual celebrations of all sorts are cropping up everywhere.
Next Saturday, we’re invited to Jackson’s one-year birthday party. Dozens of friends and family will log into Zoom to sing Happy Birthday and watch him eat his first bite of vanilla confetti cake. I’m sure we’ll be off key, and he’ll probably get frosting all over his cute outfit. We’ll take pictures and post on Instagram as usual. It will be the next best thing to being there.
We’re planning a virtual wedding for friends Rosa and Ramon. If they can get their license, my husband — who was ordained as an online officiant for his parent’s vow renewal — will marry them. Their June wedding is on hold, but during this difficult time they’re anxious to tie the knot. After all, why let a pandemic postpone your happiness?
Last weekend, I went to a b’nai mitzvah (when two siblings get bar or bat mitzvahed together) at a synagogue in our nation’s capital. Only a handful of congregants were allowed to witness the event IRL (in real life). Like me, many more streamed the Saturday service to listen to the young people read from the Torah and chant their Haftorah. No doubt, some of the virtual celebrants had their own bagels and lox kiddushes at home afterwards.
Other friends have invited me to a ukulele concert they’ll be performing online.
We are creative in the face of adversity. Remotely, we’re taking classes, doing yoga, touring museums, streaming theatrical productions from London and Broadway, armchair travelling, learning to cook and having playdates. People have held video book clubs, played poker, watched movies together (supply your own popcorn) and enjoyed happy hour with friends. I’ve also heard about a surprise party, bris and shiva, all held online.
Which brings us to Passover. There is no need to forgo tradition. Next week, instead of sitting in traffic driving to Grandma Ruth’s or Cousin Sol’s house for the first seder, American Jews — especially those with elderly or vulnerable family and friends — will be congregating in front of their screens to partake in the annual festive meal with our loved ones via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout or other platforms.
We’ll still ask the Four Questions and tell the story of the Jews escaping Egypt. When we ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?” we’ll never forget this year’s answer. And, when we recite the Ten Plagues, we can add coronavirus as the 11th. God may have sent down frogs, lice and pestilence on the Egyptians, but we never could have imagined we’d have a modern-day epidemic of such biblical proportions.
We will each open our doors for Elijah, hoping he doesn’t bring in any germs. We will pray, read from the Haggadah and sing the endless verses of Dayenu. We will partake in the traditional hand-washing — since we’re already doing it dozens of times a day, what’s one more?
We’ll simultaneously eat matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, tzimmes, brisket and macaroons in our own homes. If we don’t cook, we’ll support local businesses and order take-out.
We’ll pray for everyone to stay safe, sane, healthy and humane during these trying times and be thankful for what we have: food and wine, our health, and the miracle of the Internet that makes such electronic gatherings possible. The point is, we’re all in this together, and we can still celebrate.
Hiding the afikomen, however, may be a challenge.
At the end of the seder, we’ll utter the customary phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem;” the hope for all Jews to be able to return to the homeland. This year, we’ll really mean it.
God willing, in 2021, whether we’re in New York, Florida, California, New Zealand, Venice or Jerusalem, we truly hope to be together with our families in one place.
So, let the virtual parties and milestone celebrations continue online until we can meet in person and hug and kiss our loved ones again.
Bethany Kandel is a New York City-based author and journalist. Follow her on Instagram @awaywithbethany.