This year’s Passover festivities will be celebrated unlike any other.
Amid the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, area synagogues sit mostly idle, with limited or no in-person religious services or activities.
Yet, Jewish groups have found other ways to salvage the celebrated holiday, which this year runs from April 8 through April 16.
That includes using the Zoom online video conference platform to connect and serve congregants, albeit virtually.
Northdale-based Congregation Kol Ami on April 9 will use Zoom to stream a virtual second night Seder with Rabbis Denise Eger and Max Chaiken. They’ve also set up “Seder in a Box” meal kits that families can preorder and pickup. Other local temples, such as Congregation Beth Am and Congregation Mekor Shalom, have similar arrangements in place.
It’s all something that Kol Ami has become accustomed to since the coronavirus outbreak hit the United States.
For the past few weeks, the synagogue’s rabbis have been streaming daily prayer, various classes and Sabbath services to members to view from the comforts of their own homes. Even Kol Ami’s Sisterhood group have held needle-working activities online.
As far as program offerings, it’s pretty much “business as usual,” Kol Ami executive director Mitchell Weiss said. “We’re doing everything virtual, but we’re doing everything in the right way to accommodate what our congregants need,” he said.
Weiss is the only person still working from the Kol Ami facility. He’s staying busy checking up on congregants with personal phone calls and seeing if families or seniors have any particular needs, whether it’s help with getting meals, medications and so forth.
Interestingly, Weiss has noticed more people engaging services — even if only online. He noted a recent Saturday evening service on Zoom was particularly lively with “singing and dancing, and everyone’s up and around.”
From a spiritual perspective, Kol Ami is trying to stay positive in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“During this time of crisis, you really see the passion of people coming together and, I guess, doing the right thing,” Weiss said.
Alan Stern, who operates Congregation Beth Chavarim in Land O’ Lakes, is likewise searching for positives in the wake of the nationwide health scare.
What he’s found is reconnection with family and neighbors.
“The silver lining of this is that you’re getting to know your neighbors, from a distance. You’re getting to spend more time with your family,” Stern, 76, said. “They never really had time for anybody else, because they were so stressed out with the day-to day-activity, so it’s like we’re getting to know them.”
Stern had to cancel a planned Passover gathering slated for April 20, instead advising members to celebrate the holiday with a Kosher meal with their families.
That’s more or less the approach Chabad at Wiregrass is taking.
Rabbi Mendy Yarmush closed the facility through at least April, which means the synagogue won’t hold its annual community Passover Seder.
Instead, the rabbi encouraged members to conduct Passover festivities from home with family. To help with the transition, he’s organized a pre-Passover Zoom class, provided resources, including the Haggadah — the guidebook to the Seder, and offered matzah and wine. (Since Chabad at Wiregrass doesn’t use electronics on the Sabbath or the holidays, they won’t stream Passover online.)
Yarmush acknowledged the transition is “definitely a challenge” because “people will be on their own” for the holiday.
However, Yarmush noted congregants for the most part have maintained positive spirits.
“I think most of the families are taking it well, and trying to adjust to the new temporary reality,” he said.
“I’m hearing a lot of people finding the silver lining in it. A lot of people are enjoying their time home with their families that they don’t usually have. At the same time, I’m very concerned and fearful about what’s going on, but we’re trying to appreciate on the good parts of it and not focus on the negative.”
More on Passover
The Jewish holiday of Pesach, or Passover, is an eight-day festival celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan.
This year, it runs from April 8 to April 16.
Passover commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Following its rituals allows the Jewish community to relive and experience the freedom of their ancestors.
Observances: Passover is divided into two parts. The first two days, April 8 and April 9, and the last two days, April 15 and April 16, are full-fledged holidays. Holiday candles are lit at night, and holiday meals (Seders) are usually enjoyed for one or two days. The middle four days are referred to as Chol Hamoed, or semi-festive “intermediate days.” To commemorate the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they left Egypt, Jews don’t eat chametz, or leavened grain, from midday of the day before Passover until the conclusion of the holiday.
Seders: The highlight of Passover is the Seder, typically observed on each of the first two nights of the Passover holiday. The Seder is a 15-step, family oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast.
Focal points of the Seder include:
- Eating matzah, which is unleavened bread
- Eating bitter herbs to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites
- Drinking four cups of wine or grape juice to celebrate the newfound freedom
- The recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It begins with a child asking the traditional “Four Questions.”
Symbolic Seder foods:
- Maror—bitter herbs, usually horseradish, to serve as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery
- Saltwater—symbolizing the tears of the slaves
- Charoset—sweet paste made of fruit and nuts, symbolizing the mortar the slaves used to build the Egyptian pyramids
- Zeroah—shank bone, representing the Passover sacrifice
- Beitzah—hard-boiled egg, symbolic of life and birth associated with the spring season
- Karpas—a leafy green vegetable, usually a piece of lettuce, symbolizing hope and redemption
- Some traditional Ashkenazi Passover dishes include gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, brisket, tzimmis (sweet carrot and fruit dish), and macaroons and sponge cake (made from matzah meal) for dessert.
Local synagogue information
• Chabad Jewish Center, Trinity: Call (727) 376-3366, or visit ChabadWP.com.
• Chabad at Wiregrass, Wesley Chapel: Call (813) 642-3244, or visit ChabadatWiregrass.com.
• Congregation Beth Am, Tampa: Call (813) 968-8511, or visit BethAmTampa.org.
• Congregation Beth Chavarim, Land O’ Lakes: Email ">.
• Congregation Mekor Shalom, Tampa: Call (813) 963-1818, or visit MekorShalom.org.
• Shoresh David Messianic Synagogue, Wesley Chapel: Call (813) 760-3269, or visit ShoreshDavid.org.
Published April 08, 2020