What you can’t do physically, you may be able to do digitally.
That may be the lesson of this year’s Easter and Passover season.
Wednesday night marks the beginning of Passover. In normal times, when society isn’t being threatened by a pandemic, Jewish people around the world would be gathering for a dinner called a seder. Typically, families and extended relatives sit around the table and tell the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery from Egypt to the Promised Land. It’s a timeless tale of liberation, told at a dinner filled with rituals and symbolism.
In any other year, they would be expecting abut 400 people at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center for the synagogue’s community seder.
Tough to do during a quarantine, when families are separated by fears of COVID-19. So this year, the rabbi is busy trying to connect people through modern technology to celebrate an ancient tradition.
“We initiated a virtual seder matching to connect people who are having digital seders with people who want to be guests at someone else’s digital seder,” said rabbi Jonathan Berkun, who will be leading a seder for his congregation on the Zoom conferencing platform. “We’ve all become television producers.”
Berkun will also be connecting with his father, retired rabbi Alvin Berkun, through Zoom. That way grandpa can sort of be with his grandkids, who only live a couple of miles away.
“We’re talking about a bizarre scenario, but I know that I’m a lot better off than most people so I’m very grateful,” Alvin Berkun said. “I told my grandchildren that they will recall this encounter to their grandchildren some day.”
Jonathan Berkun is also behind an effort at his synagogue to deliver food to those who are sheltering in place. He showed us dozens of seder plates, wrapped and ready to go, in the temple’s refrigerator, destined for people who have no place to go for Passover.
Alvin Berkun will conduct his own digital seder for his neighbors. It will be on closed-circuit television inside the building in which he lives. Adding some perspective, Alvin points out that Jews have celebrated seders during the plague, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.
“The reality is that we survived by having seders, it gave us inspiration to go forward,” he said.
There’s also a silver lining to Zoom.
“There are some benefits to this technology, as we say at the end of every Passover seder, next year we should all be together in Jerusalem and with the touch of a button, we can be next year in Jerusalem right now,” Jonathan Berkun says, as he changes the background on the screen behind him to a picture of Jerusalem. “So God willing our prayers will be answered during this holy season for Jews and Christians and people of all faiths and sending love and prayers to the heroes on the front lines, the doctors, nurses, first responders and our grocery clerks.”
Another seder tradition involves opening the door for the prophet Elijah to come in to have his cup of wine. This year, consider leaving him some hand sanitizer as well.