Jewish community comes together in new ways during Passover

Passover celebrations have been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in Jewish communities worldwide, but local rabbis say they are finding new ways to celebrate together.

Posted: Apr 8, 2020 6:43 PM
Updated: Apr 8, 2020 7:09 PM

EUGENE, Ore.-- Passover celebrations have been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in Jewish communities worldwide, but local rabbis say they are finding new ways to celebrate together.

Passover commemorates the ancient Israelites' liberation from Egyptian slavery. Beginning at sundown Wednesday. Jewish people begin the first Seder, a ritual that would usually involve a ceremonial meal alongside extended family or friends.

The Seder is typically celebrated in the home or the synagogue, but this year Temple Beth Israel in Eugene and many others are hosting Seders online.

"So we have in the original text the idea of this as a shared experience. And so it's very psychologically challenging for all of us to figure out what that looks like this year when it can't be a shared experience, at least not physically between households," said Rabbi Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein. 

According to Rubenstein, for those living in isolation during the pandemic, this time can be especially lonely. Some Jewish Orthodox leaders are combating this by lifting a traditional prohibition on electronics to allow for Seder over video chat and asking congregants to limit travel to gather clothing, items and food.

Many who would typically celebrate the Seder at the homes of friends or family are also struggling to prepare traditional foods and other items for the first time. Rubenstein said kosher dishes can already be hard to find in local supermarkets, not to mention some people's reservations about leaving the home.

"There's only so much you can do. That person is going to be alone for the Seder. But we still have hope that there has been community support and people have stepped up with their resources for people to make their own Seders in the least challenging way possible," said Rabbi Tuvia Berzow of Oregon Kosher.

Chabad Jewish Center of Eugene is one organization helping people prepare for Passover, delivering matzah and Seder meal kits with instructions and videos online.

"Everyone we know is still planning on having a Seder even though they are alone," said Rabbi Berel Gurevitch. "It should be very meaningful and special. Maybe not our first choice, but being forced into it, it's going to be an interesting experience."

Rabbi Rubenstein said that Passover has been practiced through many times of hardship since the ancient Exodus. Though many are having difficulties celebrating in the age of coronavirus, the Jewish community will stay strong.

"The uncertainty and vulnerability we feel in this moment bring us closer to the anxieties of our ancestors who really, though they tried to enact this as a time of celebration, also experienced it as a time of fear," she said.

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