As the global pandemic continues to grip the world, Jewish communities are planning for a virtual Passover celebration. Last year Jewish organizations and families hosted virtual Passover seders using common video conferencing services, but many were plagued with technical difficulties. In anticipation of the massive need around the world for an improved virtual Passover seder experience, a team led by two Israeli technology experts have created an interactive seder platform called Yahad.net.
Yahad.net is a free virtual Seder platform created by the Jewish Heritage Network (JHN) a non-profit organization based in Amsterdam specializing in creating innovative experiences with Jewish heritage using modern technologies and tools. JHN’s co-founders, Pavel Kats and Alexander Raginsky, both made Aliyah from the former USSR in their teens. After serving in technology units of the IDF, Pavel and Alex did their undergraduate and advanced degrees in computer science and engineering at the Hebrew University and Technion, respectively.
Following stints in traditional tech companies, they joined together to create JHN in 2017. Pavel, who serves as the Executive Director of JHN explains, “Our goal is to engage online audiences with the history and culture of the Jewish people.”
Last year, as it became clear that there were not going to be in-person celebrations shortly before Passover, they created Yahad.net. Yahad.net platform offered access to the unique collection of historic haggadot (texts that accompany and guide the Passover seder) that were brought together by JHN. They combined access to the digital haggadot with a video conferencing service.
According to Alex, JHN’s CTO, “The idea was to go beyond the well-known video chat room by augmenting it with the shared experience of reading a haggadah together.” With Yahad, all the seder guests are virtually on the same page of the haggadah.
As the pandemic continued to spread around the world, the JHN team decided to build out the Yahad.net platform so that every Jew around the world will have the option to celebrate a seder, even virtually.
Pavel and Alex led their team to improve on technology capabilities from the previous year. They added the ability to seamlessly integrate with the Zoom conferencing service. They also turned to their network of heritage professionals around the world to add to their collection of haggadot.
The Yahad.net haggadot collection offers haggadot from the past 700 years in ten different languages. The JHN team looked for haggadot that would appeal to all streams of Judaism. Says Pavel, “We aim to be fully inclusive and offer a perfect haggadah for everyone.”
In addition to the haggadot, the platform also features an array of Passover-related materials: audio and video recordings of Passover liturgy by various Jewish communities, historical footage and photographs and rare texts. Additionally, Yahad.net offers a blog as a platform for guest contributors around the world to write about the history of the unique haggadot, Passover foods and customs and much more. Yahad also has a special suite of tools for Jewish organizations that plan to host a communal seder.
JHN partnered with one of its main sponsors, the Fooksman Family Foundation to offer the Yahad.net entirely free of charge. The Fooksman Foundation was started in 2018 by Eugene Fooksman, who was one of the chief engineers at WhatsApp. Alex explains: “We want to help every Jewish family and organization around the world celebrate a seder this year. We are extremely grateful to the Fooksman Foundation for helping bring this service to every Jew in the world during these challenging times.”