Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker normally hosts 30 people at her home for a Passover Seder. This year, she was joined for the meal solely by her husband and two kids.
With COVID-19 disrupting one of the most widely practiced Jewish traditions, people found alternatives ways to gather for a Seder and reflect on Passover’s significance during the pandemic.
According to Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Jews attend a Seder. But sharing the ceremonial dinner with extended family, friends and neighbors was a no-go this year. Clark County Public Health does not recommend gatherings of any size with people who do not live together.
“It would be hard to celebrate Passover without thinking about coronavirus,” said Dunsker, who leads Congregation Kol Ami in Brush Prairie.
There’s a tradition of washing hands twice during the Seder. And a meme going around jokes that Jews are celebrating surviving a plague by actually surviving a plague. It’s funny but also hits on the themes of Passover, Dunsker said, the idea of an uncertain future and being punished in some way and working through it.
“It’s a very holy time for so many people right now, and I hope everyone finds support and community even while separated from each other,” Dunkser said.
Tzivie Greenberg, co-director at Chabad Jewish Center of Clark County, said the situation harkens back to the original Passover where people were not allowed to leave their homes.
“Everyone was quarantined that very first Passover,” she said. “This is a very, very family oriented holiday. … People are feeling kind of strange about the whole thing, but it helps to look back at that original.”
Greenberg sees this as an opportunity for people to reflect on that first Passover, what the holiday represents and how it’s relevant today. If Passover is the story of Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, she said, maybe people will reflect on what their “Egypt” is, meaning what’s holding them back and how they can break free.
“It doesn’t diminish Passover,” Greenberg said.
Normally, Jews go to synagogue and then go home to eat with their family and friends. Many synagogues hold a community Seder for the second night of Passover, which was Thursday.
Chabad Jewish Center in the Sifton area offered Passover-to-go kits complete with matzo, a Seder plate with symbolic foods and a book known at the Haggadah. Greenberg and her husband, Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg, also recorded an online tutorial leading people through the different elements of Passover and how to put on a Seder.
Dunsker said she keeps hearing there is an egg shortage, which makes many Passover foods a challenge. Since Jews can’t use leaven during the weeklong holiday, many recipes contain eggs. Matzo brei, for instance, combines the unleavened flatbread and eggs to make a dish that can be sweet or savory.
Kol Ami held a community Seder by Zoom on Thursday evening to ensure that all its followers, including those who live alone, had a Seder to attend. Following along with a Seder PowerPoint presentation, the group recited stories, said prayers and sang songs (including the aptly titled “50 Ways to Beat This Virus” sung to the tune of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”). The congregation had even strung together videos of people singing “Chad Gadya.” Flip Frisch, who leads music at Kol Ami, sung the main lyrics while others sent in videos of themselves making different noises that go along with the song such as a cat meowing, a goat bleating and fire crackling.
One attendee called it “the most moving, relevant and fastest” Seder of his life.
For the last several weeks, the synagogue has used Zoom for its services, Torah studies and Hebrew school. Morning storytime has been a pretty big hit, even attracting a pair of siblings from Reno, Nev., who became storytime regulars.
“Which is hilarious and a whole different kind of outreach than I was expecting from this,” Dunsker said. “It has been pushing all our creative muscles.”
Since Passover is primarily celebrated at home, it’s in some ways the easiest holiday to occur during the novel coronavirus pandemic, she said. This year, it carries added significance and challenges.
Greenberg added: “It’s not a lesser Passover.”