Social distancing gives seder a different feel

For Susannah Heschel, the seder she holds on the first night of Passover is usually busy and joyous, with a dozen or more people around her table.

Extended family and friends travel to join her family of four and the second night of Passover is often only slightly less busy.

Though she and her family are trapped at home to escape the novel coronavirus, Heschel's seder on Wednesday night, which followed days of house cleaning and a day spent cooking, packed in even more people, this time via the web-conferencing platform Zoom.

Typically, Jews are not permitted to use a computer on the holiday, but some rabbis made exceptions to accommodate many who would have been alone on the holiday.

Fifteen people called in, ranging from a colleague in Hanover to people in Connecticut, California and Waco, Texas. They partook of the traditional meal and read the Haggadah, which sets out the order of the seder. "Everybody felt warm and cozy," Heschel, who is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and chair of the college's Jewish Studies Program, said in a phone interview Thursday from her home in Newton, Mass. "It felt good. We really felt we were together."