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Synagogues adjust to Passover during Pandemic

Focus on technology helps maintain celebration
Posted at 9:19 AM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 12:19:24-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - Synagogues around San Diego are finding ways to help their members create meaningful Passover celebrations, despite stay-at-home orders brought on by the Coronavirus.

The Passover holiday tells the story of the Jewish people's liberation from slavery in Egypt. It's commemorated each year with a festive meal called a Seder, in which families and friends gather to retell the story through prayer, songs, and special food.

But this year, with people being encouraged to stay at home because of the pandemic, large gatherings aren't allowed, and many Jews will hold their Seder either alone or just with immediate family.

"I call them Seders in seclusion," says Rabbi Ron Shulman, from Beth El in La Jolla. "For most of us, in our lifetimes, this is our most unusual Passover. So I've been wishing people that they have a Passover of unusual meaning and blessing."

To help with that effort, Shulman's Synagogue has been sending out instructions on how to hold Zoom meetings for Seder. Beth El is also hosting a couple of Seder events on Wednesday night, the first night of Passover, to help people feel like they're part of a community. And traditional services at the temple will be live-streamed through the Synagogue's website throughout the week.

"The routine and the values and the vision of the holiday are a source of comfort and meaning right now," says Shulman, who noted that most members of his Synagogue say they are looking forward to the holiday, despite the challenges.

It certainly won't be the first time in history the Jewish people have had to adjust Passover plans to fit the world around them. During events like the Holocaust, the Inquisition, and several other times of exile or persecution, Jewish people have managed to keep their traditions alive and practice in private.

One of the most significant difficulties this year has been helping people find some of the food that is specific to the holiday. While many stores have items like Matzah and other Passover food in stock, Shulman says some Jews are hesitant to make extra trips to the store or visit different stores to pick up a couple of items.

He's offered advice on how to follow the rules of the holiday while staying safe. Other synagogues have created boxes of food for members to pick up.

The Chabad of Chula Vista prepared "Seder In a Box" kits that people could get for free, containing everything people need for the ritual parts of the meal.

For Shulman, he says the challenges of this year create unique opportunities for people to be creative. He says he's looking forward to hearing stories of how people figured it all out.

"One of the beauties of the Passover Seder is that it collects the memories of history that aren't good and turns them into a hope for what can be redeemed and what is good about the world," says Shulman. "That's one of the real appeals of Passover which people are feeling very much this year."