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Passover at home with Baton Rouge synagogues

The Jewish festival of Passover, which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, is usually marked by great gatherings of family and friends for ceremonial dinners that include multiple courses, symbolic elements and special prayers. Families plan menus for weeks and local synagogues welcome members to recall one of the most important milestones of the faith. But as with all other public gatherings, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of these big get-togethers. This year’s Passover feasts may look much different than they have traditionally, but local leaders say there are strong parallels between the current situation and the very first Passover.

Congregation B’nai Israel Rabbi Jordan Goldson holds a Torah scroll that dates back to the Holocaust. Photo by Collin Richie.

“Most years, there seems to be a disconnect between what the ancient Hebrews experienced and what we are living today,” wrote Congregation B’nai Israel Rabbi Jordan Golson in the temple’s April newsletter. “But now, as we are isolating in our homes, much as they did when God told them to stay at home while the Angel of Death passed over their homes, we can relate. Surely, they had these feelings of anxiety and fear for what the future will bring. … And yet, God saved us.”

Beth Shalom Synagogue typically hosts a congregational Seder, or ceremonial dinner service, at its Jefferson Highway campus on the second night of Passover each year. The current pandemic and stay-at-home order forced the synagogue to cancel that event for 2020, but synagogue leaders are helping members celebrate at home in ways that combine sacred and traditional elements with fresh ideas that meet the moment we’re all now living in.

The lineup of virtual Passover-themed activities at Beth Shalom began with an April 1 Zoom meeting on how to celebrate the festival at home and also included a live online Passover puppet show on April 8. Today, April 9, though the congregation can’t be together in person, the synagogue will host a Virtual Pesach Seder via the Zoom meeting app at 5 p.m., and members are asked to RSVP online.

“In these unprecedented times, a strong sense of community is more important than ever before,” note Beth Shalom leaders on the synagogue website. “Our synagogue family will weather this crisis together, and we will find new ways to connect with each other even if it is not in person.”

Congregation B’nai Israel’s second-night Seder also would have taken place tonight, April 9, at the temple, but the event’s cancellation inspired temple leaders to encourage members to host their own Seders at home. B’nai Israel’s April newsletter includes a guide to doing just that, with everything from recipes and details on filling the ceremonial seder plate to song sheets and coloring sheets for children.

“This is the holiday that most Jews celebrate,” wrote Goldson in the newsletter, “and this year we need to make it a real celebration of hope and deliverance.”