Passover in the Age of COVID-19: A Guide

With Passover soon upon us, how do we approach this most central holiday in our tradition with this new reality we are facing?

Perhaps we have taken our Passover holidays traditions for granted in the past, knowing we would have family around us, so making this shift now is particularly difficult. Many will find themselves alone on this holiday for the first time. And, yes, we are sad about it, and grieving the loss of this special time. But we must get creative and find ways to be together, if we can. Perhaps, we can think of it as an opportunity to get innovative with the ritual and think of new ways to interpret and make it relevant.

Here are some tips to consider for this year’s unusual Passover observance, including some local resources for virtual Passover Seders: 

  • “Lean in” to Passover this year: Dr. Asaf Bitton, an Israeli physician at Harvard and Global Health expert, when reflecting on the crisis this year for Jews around the world, recently suggested that we have a unique opportunity to “lean in” to Passover this year. What did he mean by this? He noted: “Think of the Seder you could have given this current reality.” Of course, it is difficult to focus on the positive when so much looks so bleak, but he stated his case beautifully when he went on to say: “We have a chance to reimagine our tradition and to remember that our people have always come through a crisis.” A new perspective to consider and a place to begin…
     
  • Delve into the Passover Haggadah for new interpretations: Our Pesach story, told in our Haggadah, is so rich in detail and metaphor. I don’t know about you, but in so many years past, I haven’t always given it the attention it deserved. But this year, we have more time than ever before to give it some added consideration, and may even find some relevance to what we are going through now with this current crisis. “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…” Is it possible that now, we are feeling enslaved in a different way, perhaps to our own fear? There are many new interpretations already being written about parts of the Seder. One alternative interpretation for the traditional Four Sons utilizes the current crisis as a backdrop: The Four Children and COVID-19, offers four possible responses to the crisis: the Inquisitive Child; Worried Child; Compassionate Child; Resilient Child. And, of course, a bit of humor at a time like this could be a healthy thing: I’m sure many of us have thought about adding an 11th plague to the traditional 10??!
     
  • Connect with friends and family in a new way this year, a Zoom Seder??! If your observance tradition allows for this, why not connect on Zoom or FaceTime with your family for a Seder?! The way I’m trying to see this, is that this will allow many people to be together who might not otherwise have shared a Seder in “one place.” For me personally, I have two daughters living on the East Coast. While my daughter in Washington, DC had planned to be home for Pesach (and she is very sad not to be), my daughter in New York had not planned to be here, so now I will get to “be” with my family in Los Angeles and both of my daughters on Zoom, and my extended family as well. We plan to divide up the Seder and assign different members various sections to facilitate, which will also allow the leading of our Seder to be more shared than in the past, and this could be a vast improvement, in my opinion! (Let us know if you need any help learning about Zoom—we can help assist you!)
     
  • What if you are truly on your own this year? Having a Seder by yourself or with a very small group need not be a lonely experience. There are some excellent resources available for making this not just a tolerable experience, but perhaps an excellent one. Check out the website My Jewish Learning for 6 Tips for Hosting Your Own Passover Seder:  https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/six-tips-for-hosting-a-solo-seder
     
  • Explore our local community resources for virtual Passover Seders: And don’t forget, that right here in our local community, we have some wonderful opportunities to participate in an online, virtual Seder experience. Remember, you are not alone! 
     
    • Congregation B’nai B’rith is hosting a virtual Seder with Rabbi Steve Cohen on Wednesday, April 8 at 5:30 pm. For more details, visit: https://cbbsb.org/news-events.
       
    • Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer of the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara will be hosting a virtual Seder on Thursday, April 9 at 6:00 pm. If you are interested, contact Itzik Ben Sasson in advance for all of the details: communityshul@gmail.com or (805) 895-6593.

In the end, Passover is about hope and redemption, and ultimately, the Coronavirus will “PASS OVER” us and we will come through to the other side of this sea of uncertainty and fear…But we will be forever changed. And, like our ancestors of old, we may become even stronger after this journey. Perhaps this is the lesson we are learning even in the midst of this terrible crisis…that we are resilient, we survive, we endure…

As we say at the end of the Passover Seder — Next Year in a (Coronavirus-free) Jerusalem!

Chag Pesach Sameach. Wishing you a healthy holiday with many blessings to come.
Keep Calm – and Seder On!!