On Wednesday, those of the Jewish faith will sit down for a Passover seder, likely in front of a phone, computer or tablet.
Passover, the Jewish holiday in which Jews recount how their ancestors escaped slavery in Egypt, begins Wednesday. The holiday is marked by a seder, an interactive dinner where the story of the holiday is told through the use of edible symbols, such as parsley, horseradish, matzot and wine. And for a holiday that asks why this night is different than all of the others, Passover in 2020 will be celebrated much differently than previous years.
Many families may use Zoom, Skype or Facetime to connect with family in different houses, said Rabbi Simon Stratford, who leads Congregation Kol Ami of Frederick.
“So all of us are being thrusted into this world of online community and via Zoom, Facebook Live, whatever other platforms we have to come together do a Zoom Seder, which is super interesting because the Seder is all about gathering around the same table with friends and families to retell the story of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, from slavery in Egypt to freedom,” Stratford said. “And we’re all going to be doing so from different tables and different houses, given the circumstance.”
Passover is considered one of the more holy holidays in the Jewish faith, below the High Holidays in the fall, but above the minor holidays celebrated throughout the year. The seder is the oldest running tradition still practiced by Jewish people, the rabbi said.
“...I would say Passover is the second most important holiday because if we don’t, if we were never set free from Egypt, being slaves in Egypt might still be there today,” he said. “So it’s important to celebrate the idea of the end of oppression and the liberation and the freedom of all people, not just the Jewish people, but all people in the world.”
The irony is not lost on Stratford that a holiday like Passover, which recounts the 10 plagues God sent to Egypt to encourage the pharaoh to release his slaves, is happening this year during a pandemic.
But it is not inhibiting from people gathering, even if it is virtually.
“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s difficult. It’s a little weird as well. Again, seeing people through screens and not being physically together.”
For Congregation Kol Ami, Stratford prerecorded a seder for Wednesday night. On Thursday, he will host a live on Zoom, he said. He has also been sending out materials to the members of the congregation.
This year will also be tough on Jews who decide to keep Passover, where they do not eat anything that rises or contains yeast, as those of the Jewish faith must unleavened breads as a way to honor their ancestors fleeing slavery.
People might not have had time to prepare the foods they might need to keep the holiday tradition. In his sermon Friday, Stratford told his congregation it is OK not to keep Passover. Rather it is community over traditions and customs, he said.
“Because we have to deal and adapt to the circumstances that we’ve been given,” the rabbi said.
Stratford acknowledged that Jews are not the only ones with holidays affected by COVID-19. Ramadan starts soon, and Easter is soon, he said.
“And so I think all peoples are kind of under understanding and coming to terms with what it means to gather and create community in a sacred and safe way when we’re not physically together,” Stratford said.
In Passover, the service is ended by saying next year in Jerusalem, next year together. This year takes a bit of a twist, the rabbi said.
“This year via Zoom, next year in person, I would say, I would hope so,” Straford said. “And I read something earlier that said, you know, this year all we have to do is make sure that we get we’re here on this earth and alive for next year in person. So I think that’s all of all that we can hope for at this time and everyone’s safety and health, in every family and every community regardless of when they’re celebrating or how they’re celebrating.”