Finding Resilience and Community Through a Virtual Seder

by Madeleine Roberts

A Seder is a dinner held during Passover, the holiday that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt.

As a program manager at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center (EDCJCC), Matthew Adler has a monumental task at hand: to help organize the center’s first-ever virtual Seder. Adler holds a planning role at The Kurlander Program for GLBTQ Outreach and Engagement (GLOE), which is housed within the EDCJCC. He leads on organizing volunteers and community leaders to take part in events. He also engages in outreach to the Jewish LGBTQ community and their allies -- in his words, making sure they “have a place to call home.”

With that goal in mind, every year for the past 12 years, GLOE has co-presented a National Rainbow Seder with HRC Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program. “Usually the Rainbow Seder is exclusively focused on the LGBTQ community; however, this year it’s going to be a mix of our content and some of our people with some of the broader community,” explains Adler. In spite of these new and very challenging circumstances, GLOE and the EDCJCC are still making sure that LGBTQ people are welcomed and included in this year’s virtual Seder in a variety of ways. 

A Seder is a dinner held during Passover, the holiday that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. A seder, which means “order” in Hebrew, is a ritual meal that proceeds in a specific order and includes eating certain foods, reading, sharing stories and singing. 

“For the four cups of wine or grape juice that are typically drunk at a Seder, we provide an LGBTQ-themed reading for each of those,” says Adler. “In addition, there will be a facilitator who will be leading three different breakout sections of LGBTQ folks who want to talk about aspects of the Seder.” 

Hosting and attending a Seder virtually is a new experience for Adler, and he’s not alone. Adler knows that Jews across the world will likely be marking this holiday in different ways than they have before.

“There’s very specific symbolic items that you have to have,” says Adler. “Maybe you will be able to get [them], but maybe you won’t. So what we’re trying to do is make it so that people who don’t have all those objects are still able to get at the meaning behind the Seder.” 

Although aspects of the Seder are lost when going virtual, there are also other things that could be gained.

“[Having a virtual Seder] could make it more accessible for people,” Adler explains. “For example, someone who is elderly and can’t leave their home, but they can set up a Zoom call… [N]ot to minimize the negative challenges… but we can also find that speck of positivity.” 

Adler also sees parallels between the current COVID-19 situation and hosting a virtual Seder instead of one that’s in person. “We’re trying to tailor it to the reality that people are living in,” he emphasizes. “For me, that’s what Judaism is about. It’s about living in the moment and being able to take tradition and meld it with the current reality.” 

For LGBTQ Jews and all Jewish people, Adler also has a message: “Don’t give up,” he says. “The message of Jewish history is that even after we go through hard times, we manage to rebuild… And I think that’s the same for LGBTQ communities -- we’re resilient.” 

HRC’s Religion & Faith program is proud to support GLOE and the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, D.C. To learn more about the Seder and to register, click here.