Sunday, February 5, 2023

It’s Passover, so how’s the Jewish community celebrating amid the coronavirus?

As the Jewish holiday of Passover begins, those observing the time are doing so from a distance and with traditional food. (WYDaily/Wikimedia Commons)
As the Jewish holiday of Passover begins, those observing the time are doing so from a distance and with traditional food. (WYDaily/Wikimedia Commons)

While the coronavirus has kept people in their homes for weeks, it’s not stopping members of various religions from celebrating their holy days during this season.

The Jewish holiday of Passover started Wednesday, bringing with it a week of religious observance. Rabbi David Katz with Temple Beth El said while the holiday might be different in some ways, in others it isn’t.

Passover is a holiday celebrated for eight or seven days each spring, depending on a person’s preference, Katz said, and it commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

During the week of observance, Katz said there are really only one or two times when people of the Jewish faith will gather for the traditional Seder, which is a ritual feast that marks the start of Passover. 

Typically families in the area will gather together in their homes to have the feast together and then Temple Beth El will host a congregational Sedar on the second night of Passover that brings in about 80 to 100 people each year.

This year though, the synagogue is adapting to holding the tradition online. 

“We’ll just have to share the moment together using Zoom,” he said. “We won’t be together and will have to adjust in a few different ways, but everyone will be doing the best they can from home.”

Katz said he is preparing to host a Zoom conference for people to participate in the congregational Sedar and he is building a website that will feature the Haggadah, which is a text that tells the story of Exodus and guides you through eating meals during Passover.

People of the congregation don’t have access to the Haggadah at home because there are hundreds of different versions, Katz said. While they feature the traditional rules and texts of Passover, each one is embellished in different ways by the person telling the story. 

Typically, the synagogue would prepare about 120 printed copies of the Haggadah to disperse to the congregation each year, but this year Katz is hoping people will be able to follow along online.

“Usually people will gather in groups of 10 or 20 for Seder on the first night, but now there will have to be smaller groups,” he said. “Instead, there will be a lot of homes where there are just one or two people that are by themselves but don’t want to be alone, so we have Zoom.”

Katz said Passover is different from traditional Christian holidays that happen around this time. While many will gather together for Ash Wednesday and Easter, Passover doesn’t have many social traditions and mainly focuses on what is being eaten during that time period.

“After the Seders you’re very aware of the holiday but there’s not many other rituals except for what you eat,” he said. “If this happened during Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare that would be for us.”

During Passover, those of Jewish faith don’t eat anything that is produced from grain that is risen. This means they can only eat unleavened bread and typically replace those food items with Matzah.

“If you’re spending all your time at home right now, you’re relationship with food is different,” he said. “People might be more aware of Passover because you’re at home and looking at your kitchen all day.” 

Katz said he fondly remembers growing up and pulling out sandwiches made from Matzah during Passover instead of bread. But in a rural area such as Williamsburg, finding these food options was already limited even before the coronavirus struck.

Now, Katz said members of the congregation have been working to help provide food for others who either can’t leave their homes or would be putting themselves at risk by going to the grocery store. 

Katz said people have been delivering food to his family as well and he’s doing a lot of grocery shopping online.

Even though Passover might look a little different than it has in the past, Katz and the congregation of Temple Beth El are still finding ways to observe the holiday.

“It’s not as much as a congregationally-oriented holiday so much as it is more of a personal holiday,” he said. “But we are still trying to replicate that experience and continue to educate people about the holiday.” 

The Virginia Department of Health has provided a frequently asked questions section on their website.

One of the sections shows how people can celebrate religious holidays such as Passover during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many synagogues have provided online resources and links to streaming Seders for those who want to follow along with others in the community,” according to the VDH’s website. “The essence of the Seder can be the same: sitting with your family around the dining room table to remember the Exodus.”

Some general suggestions for children is to keep a sense of stability by practicing normal traditions and excitement such as having children make puppets to reenact the story of the exodus at Seder.

“However you celebrate, try to give your children a holiday that they’ll remember fondly,” according to VDH’s website.

WYDaily multimedia reporter Julia Marsigliano contributed to this report.

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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