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For Diane Hartz Warsoff, Wednesday’s Passover Seder was both the smallest and the largest ever in her Salt Lake City home.
In person, it was only Warsoff and her husband, Art. “I’ve never made haroset (a paste of fruits and nuts) for just two before,” she says. But via Zoom, 35 extended family members in 19 locations were also participating.
Like so many Americans, the Warsoffs have been self-isolating for the past three weeks due to the coronavirus. So they had to find a way to celebrate the 4,000-year-old Passover tradition — commemorating the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt — while keeping a safe distance.
That meant, of course, a virtual Seder.
The Seder follows a script, known as the Haggadah, which links specific symbolic foods to elements of the story: wine, spring vegetables, salt water, unleavened bread known as matzo, and bitter herbs like horseradish dipped into sweet paste.
Other parts of the Seder, including the question-and-answer sections and reading choices, are open to interpretation, emphasizing different aspects of the text. Various groups — feminist, social justice, environmental, LGBTQ, global unity — have their own versions of the Haggadah.
For the Warsoffs’ meal, Art wrote a Haggadah and sent it to all those who would be participating so they all could follow the script together.
“The hardest part is that people we are normally together with, like my mother, couldn’t come,” says Diane, “but we will be celebrating with people we love who are never together all at once.”
While mostly being sequestered in her east side Salt Lake City home has been somewhat uncomfortable, it is nothing compared to what her mother experienced as a “hidden child” in a French convent during World War II.
Ruth Kapp Hartz wasn’t hidden like Anne Frank and could go out on occasion, Diane says, but she was given a different identity and always afraid of being exposed.
Now Hartz is stuck out of state but has sent her daughter jokes and positive messages every day as a way for family members to keep up their spirits during this period of isolation.
“This year, in particular, we feel the pain of our ancestors who were slaves and couldn’t do as they pleased,” Diane says. “However, many of us are comfortable in our own homes with (almost) everything we need.”
One of the key elements of the Seder states, “Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and celebrate Passover. Today, we are slaves; next year, we will be free.”
To this Salt Lake City Jewish woman living through a pandemic, she says, “that sums it up.”