We’d been planning our seder for weeks. We like to have a theme, and this year we selected a Spanish theme to explore the Passover foods of Jews from Spain. We invited family and friends to join the five of us, including my husband’s mom, whom we affectionately call “Ma.”
Preparations were underway — we took out all our Passover supplies, rented tables and chairs, and got ready to bring the exotic flavors of Spanish cuisine to our seder. Two days before our big night, we got the unfortunate news that Ma wouldn’t be able to join us from Scottsdale because she was not well enough to travel.
We understood, but were especially saddened she wouldn’t be with us because this would be her first Passover since her husband passed away last summer. The thought of her alone broke our hearts.
In a moment of despair, we came up with the brilliant idea that she could join us after all — virtually, by Skype. We kept her place card at our table and devised a way for her to see everyone from her home screen. It worked!
As we sat down to our seder, my husband welcomed everyone and set the stage for insightful, thought-provoking conversation by saying the theme of our evening would be journeys, from this past year and going forward: personal, emotional, spiritual and physical.
One child asked, “Don’t we already have a Spanish theme?” to which his mother said “That’s for the food, this is for the discussion. The Sobels like themes.”
My husband spoke about his journey since losing his father 8 months ago, and our oldest daughter leaving for college in the fall and our middle daughter spending spring semester next year studying in Israel (making “Next year in Jerusalem” true for her!) leaving us with only one daughter at home next Passover.
Ma chimed in and reflected on her journey from us all being there for Dad’s end of life to now navigating on her own after 50-plus years of marriage. Her stories moved us and brought us to tears and it didn’t matter that she wasn’t seated at our table, because she was at our table. She was a part of every conversation. One guest inquired why we have an orange on our seder plate, and without hesitation our matriarch explained how we support women’s rightful place in Jewish life.
There was a different scene each time we glanced at the computer screen. After we read how the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and broke into song, Ma joined in with a timbrel in her hand in celebration of Miriam the prophetess dancing with her women and their timbrels at the Red Sea. During the recitation of the Ten Plagues, Ma was wearing a frog visor with ping-pong-ball eyes.
Our candles were burning; her candles were burning. When we (finally) got to the meal, she disappeared from the screen and returned with her plate of food. My husband showed her our platters of food as I explained each recipe, including quinoa paella.
When we sang “Who Knows One,” the traditional Passover song that enumerates common Jewish teachings, Ma’s part was “Two are the tablets.” When it came to her turn she stood up and turned in circles, holding up two fingers as she joyously sang, “Two are the tablets of the covenant.”
As we concluded our seder singing Eliyahu HaNavi, I was keenly aware of my mother-in-law’s voice joining in song — such an important part of our seder. I felt very grateful that technology keeps us from being enslaved by poor health and gives us the freedom to bring loved ones together to retell our story of being liberated from slavery.
Andrea Sobel is the director of marketing and communications at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco.