Passover begins Saturday evening, March 27, and for the second year in a row we’re facing challenges coordinating celebrations with family members and loved ones. Many of us are looking to find the same Haggadah for everyone as we conduct our Seder via Zoom. While conducting our Seder is again made more difficult by COVID-19, we find relevance in the recounting of the ancient biblical story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt, a story that includes terrifying plagues, a slave revolt, and a miraculous escape across the Red Sea. With the coronavirus pandemic now entering a second year, and forcing most of the community to remain mostly at home, the world feels pretty biblical.
The Seder, a meal with symbolic ingredients that recount the Exodus story, has always invited us as Jews to seek fresh interpretations. We partake of foods such as bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of slavery and vegetables dipped in saltwater representing the tears of the enslaved Israelites. We ask ourselves how the Passover story applies to our own lives. The matzah we consume during the eight days of Passover is a reminder that just as the ancient Israelites did not have time to make leavened bread for their journey, people today continue to make do with whatever food and other household items they find at the grocery store.
Our Passover story continues to resonate in the context of this global pandemic. Most of us can relate to the fear and loss of a loved one, or someone we know. But, with a vaccine now here, we can feel that there is a sense of hope on the horizon, hope that one day, not too long down the road, we will emerge from our mostly separate households and walk freely without fear, together with our loved ones again, and resume our pre-COVID lives, with a new sense of “normalcy.”
There is not one of us who has not been adversely affected by COVID-19. We have all experienced some level of depression, but I remain hopeful that the Federation and its agencies will emerge stronger. This feeling of hope emanates from the good I see happening throughout our community.
Some of the activities sponsored by the Federation and its agencies around Passover are:
- Jewish Family Services will distribute Passover baskets to clients in need. JFS staff will deliver about 30 baskets.
- JCC is offering “Setting the Table for Seder,” a Paul and Yetta Gluck School of Visual Arts workshop for all ages. Participants will use stenciling and fabric printmaking techniques to adorn a matzah cover they make.
- Hunter Thomas, JCC program coordinator, will read a holiday story to preschoolers during Shabbat at the JCC Early Learning Center.
- The JCC Welcome Desk will be decorated with holiday-themed art.
- Heritage Manor Rehabilitation & Retirement Community and Levy Gardens Assisted Living residents and tenants will participate in a virtual Seder.
- In lieu of a model Seder for the whole school, each class at Akiva Academy will hold a Seder in their classroom.
We all pray that next year we will continue the tradition of telling the story of our people’s exodus from Egypt with our extended families, friends, and loved ones. Be well, be safe, and Happy Pesach!
Chief Executive Officer, Youngstown Area Jewish Federation