Virtual seders and kosher prep tutorials. How coronavirus crisis has altered Passover

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MIAMI — The Passover Seder table at the Luri house is usually festooned with Kosher wine, matzoh and bitter herbs.

The most important part of their holiday dinner: About 30 family and friends.

But the Luris — along with Jewish families in South Florida and around the world — are rethinking how to celebrate the springtime holiday that commemorates the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a sacrifice to make, Passover by ourselves,” Noti Lurie said of the holiday, which begins Wednesday and lasts for eight days. “But seeing what’s happening in New York and so many other places — it’s a small sacrifice.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that all non-essential businesses and services would be suspended until the end of April. While the order does not apply to religious gatherings, a group of Orthodox rabbis urged people not to travel to South Florida for the holiday, an annual tradition involving many from the Northeast, an area decimated by the coronavirus.

South Florida synagogues have suspended services and canceled community celebrations, or moved them over to online platforms. Miami Beach has recently banned minyans, or Jewish prayer gatherings in private homes.

Seder, which translates to order, is usually held on the first two nights of the holiday. The tradition involves retelling the sacred story so that its message of freedom passes from generation to generation, and reading from the Haggadah, or prayer book.

Many of the items used in the Seder are symbolic. Wine represents redemption; saltwater represents tears. Another tradition: leaving an empty place setting for the prophet Elijah and opening the door to let him in.

“There is no question that this is going to be a challenge,” said Jacob Solomon, president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “There is no getting around it being a tremendous loss.”

But Solomon said adaptation is key. Instead of mass gatherings at synagogues or even private homes, Jews are learning how to hold their own holiday meal when geography has separated the family.

For the Luries, having to celebrate without their adult children being part of the actual Seder — both live in New York — will be difficult.

“In whatever situation we’re in, you’re supposed to try and see the good in it and accept everything with joy,” Lurie said.

Virtual seders during Passover

On the first night of Passover, families usually gather around the table for the ritual-infused Seder. While some communities are encouraging Zoom get togethers, livestreams or phone conversations, some Jews refrain from using electricity on the Sabbath and holidays.

Rabbi Yossi Harlig, leader of the Chabad of Kendall and Pinecrest, said he plans on having a pre-Seder Wednesday, via Zoom and Facebook, with his congregation before the sun goes down, marking the start of the holiday. In past years, he has held a Seder at the synagogue with upwards of 100 people.

“We can still share parts of the holiday together even though we are physically apart,” Harlig said.

Other rabbis are offering tutorials on how much food to get, what prayers to say and how to properly tell the Passover story.

Rabbi Frederick Klein, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, said this year many are being forced “to go back to the basics,” because they have never had to prepare their own Seder. The Greater Miami Jewish Federation is offering a guide to the holiday on its website.

Klein, who said his own children wouldn’t be able to join him because they are in other states, said Passover is about unity and connection. And while people may not physically be together, they can be together spiritually.

“We want this to be a time to connect to Jewish tradition,” he said. “You can’t neglect yourself spiritually.”

Some temples are turning to technology to keep the traditions going.


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