Star-Studded Virtual Seder To Raise Funds For Coronavirus Relief

Dozens of celebrities will gather around a virtual Passover table Saturday to raise money for coronavirus relief efforts. 

Idina Menzel, Jason Alexander, Ilana Glazer, Debra Messing and Rachel Brosnahan are just some of the stars who have signed on to help retell the story of the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in a “Saturday Night Seder” show.

The online Seder is a fundraiser for a coronavirus emergency response fund set up by the CDC Foundation, a nonprofit created by Congress to support the work of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In a time of confinement and uncertainty, a rag-tag team of Jews and non-Jewish Passover enthusiasts felt it was more important than ever to channel creative energies and gather community,” Alex Edelman, one of the show’s writers, told USA Today. “We’re thrilled to be reinterpreting the timeless story of liberation and renewal while raising money for those on the front lines enduring — and fighting — an actual plague.”

“Saturday Night Seder” is a project of StoryCourse, a New York City-based immersive dinner theater company that produced star-studded Passover Seders in New York City in 2017 and 2018.

This time, the Seder is being streamed online. Guests have been contributing pre-recorded portions of the virtual Seder from their homes, The New York Times reported. The show’s producers have also been working from their homes for the past two weeks to organize logistics.

As of Friday evening, the celebrity guest list included actors, singers, comedians, fashion designers, three rabbis and at least one politician, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

The spread of COVID-19 drastically changed Jewish Americans’ celebration of Passover this year. The weeklong holiday, which began the evening of April 8, usually calls for festive gatherings with extended family and friends, as well as communal prayer services at synagogues ― two elements that were not possible this year.

Some denominations promoted virtual Seders as a way to stay connected with family. But more orthodox streams of Judaism forgo electricity during the Seder, which means families couldn’t stay in touch during the meal itself.

Traditionally, the Seder takes place on the first two nights of the holiday. The Saturday Night Seder will be streamed on the fourth night of Passover, just as religious restrictions on using electricity are lifted on the East Coast. 

The funds raised during the Seder will go toward medical supplies, clinical research, emergency staffing at public health agencies and other causes, according to the CDC Foundation. 

Benj Pasek, a songwriter who worked on the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” and the movie “La La Land,” is one of the organizers behind the event. He told The New York Times that the story of Passover, with its theme of “going from confinement to freedom,” speaks perfectly into what a broad swath of Americans are experiencing today. 

“At the Seder table, we ask ourselves, ‘What can you do for people who are suffering because you once suffered?’” Pasek said. “We want to amplify that message because it is one of hope and also one that asks people to give of themselves however they can.”

“Saturday Night Seder” will be streamed on the event’s website at 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday. 

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