Passover, a Festival of Freedom Amid COVID-19: Rabbi Winer
We complete our Passover Seder each year with the phrase, “This year we are slaves. Next year may we be free. This year here. Next year in Jerusalem.”
The concept of going forth from captivity pervades our atmosphere this year much more viscerally for many of us than under normal circumstances because of the coronavirus.
Rabbi Rick Winer
Passover likely began as an ancient spring harvest festival and eventually evolved into the commemoration of the Exodus, the celebration of our freedom from slavery.
While Passover is normally a home-based observance, we typically gather in large groups of family and friends. Many congregations offer a large, community seder that makes it easier for those who would otherwise find it difficult to observe the festival with the special food preparations required.
Ironically, during Passover we commemorate the haste with which we fled Egypt and eat matzah because our bread did not have time to rise and, yet, most of us spend more time cooking and preparing food than we typically do. It is time-intensive and that time is spent with loved ones learning handed-down recipes and family traditions.
Our Observances Don’t Require Perfection
One of the pieces of wisdom religious leaders are sharing through these challenging times is that our observances do not need to be perfect. Everyone understands that these are extraordinary times and it is not necessary to completely replicate the “normal” experience.
That being said, recent years have seen a flourishing of internet resources for all matters in the world of religion. Online Passover seder texts are easily available and, every year, more and more fun videos appear to bring life to the retelling of the Passover story.
Some families and communities are “gathering” for their Passover seder using electronic connectivity.
Orthodox authorities have, for the most part, not given permission to gather in this manner because the seder is held on a festival day and electronics are not allowed during festivals or the Sabbath.
Liberal Jewish communities are encouraging people to gather in this fashion and providing resources and opportunities to do so. Families who normally join together are spending more time beforehand tutoring each other through the family recipes that each household will make this year instead of the matriarch or patriarch of the family doing the cooking for everyone together.
Temple Beth Israel Seder Is on YouTube
Here in Fresno, members of the local Jewish community are connecting people to appropriate resources such as where to find kosher for Passover food and the online resources for leading the seder and observing the festival.
Since Passover is meant to be observed in a leisurely manner, the Temple Beth Israel seder is now available on YouTube for people to play and participate in at their own leisure. It can be found on the Temple Beth Israel Fresno YouTube channel. The local Jewish communities are all consulting, providing resources, and doing what we are able to meet the needs of the Jewish community through this challenge.
Most important to Judaism is preserving life and, therefore, we appropriately modify our celebration of Passover and the coming of spring in order to do so safely.
About the Author
Rabbi Rick Winer has served the congregation at Fresno’s Temple Beth Israel and the Valley’s Jewish community since 2011.