We are counting the days and weeks. . . yes, we've been counting the days since entering social distancing (almost 6 weeks!), BUT we are also counting the days and weeks in a positive way.
We started to "Count the Omer," from the second day of Passover. Each night we say a blessing and count seven times seven weeks, until on the 50th day we celebrate receiving the Torah at Sinai, on the holiday of Shavuot. In Jewish mysticism these seven weeks are seen as a prime time for inner reflection and personal growth.
This year the Omer season seems more relevant than ever. The first Passover Seder took place while people sheltered at home from a deadly plague. Fast forward over a millennium, and there was another plague, during the Omer season, that killed many of the students of Rabbi Akiba, a great sage and one of the leaders of the rebellion against the Roman empire in the Land of Israel.
Tradition has it that Rabbi Akiba's students were also "plagued" by a lack of mutual respect, and had to learn how to get along together. So during this time each year, we recall these events by a state of "semi-mourning" in which we abstain from haircuts and from holding weddings, among other things. Yep, we are all doing that this year!
The plague lifted on the 33rd Day of the Omer, known as Lag Ba-Omer, which became a day devoted to outdoor celebrations, games, and bonfires. I never gave much thought to this ancient plague, until this year when we ourselves are living through a pandemic. Again and again, the lessons of history have become very real to me this year, and the barriers that separate us from the past have been effaced.
Superimposed on this ancient spring season are some modern Jewish special days: Yom Hashoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust (which took place this week and was marked by virtual gatherings around the world). and a week later Yom HaZikaron (Israel's Memorial Day), followed by Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).
In honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, I would like to invite you to a Virtual Tour of Israel! On Wednesday, April 29, 8pm, please join me on Zoom, where you are invited to share a favorite photo of Israel (you can have them ready on your computer desktop), and/or a favorite Israel story or memory. Hopefully we can also sing a couple of Israeli songs. Bring your own Israeli snacks! To get the log-in and Password, see our email to members, or send me or Marcy an email. At that time, I will also share about an interfaith, Peacemakers' Tour of Israel that I'm planning to co-lead with a local minister, Doris Dalton, God willing, when it's safe to travel again.
Looking forward to seeing you then. I'm counting the days!
Dear PCS Community,
"Why is this night different from every other night?" Those words will have a lot of extra meaning at our Seders this year! We are celebrating in different ways this year, unable to have the usual joyful gatherings of extended families and friends in person. Fortunately, we do have the technology to meet virtually, and the religious flexibility to do so.
We are all doing what's difficult together, so that we can preserve life and help all of society get through this challenging time, to better days ahead.
Many phrases and ideas from the Seder will surely echo with us this year in new and relevant ways: The very name of "Passover," for example. Like our ancestors on the first Seder night, we are urged to stay home for our health and safety.
The 10 plagues--all too relevant (not only the Corona Virus, but other environmental and social woes) that have occured in recent months.
On a more positive note, we reconsider the meaning of the parting of the sea and our hopes for freedom. Freedom may have a new meaning for many of us as our priorities shift to consider what is really important to us in life.
Likewise, the figure of Elijah the Prophet inspires us to be the person who checks on our friends and does kind deeds for others.
And "next year in Jerusalem" is becoming "Next year with everyone together!"
I know that this is a hard and stressful time for everyone. Please know that although we may be temporarily isolated, you are not alone. Your PCS community is here for you. Our staff and board have been reaching out to call congregants on the phone, but if you haven't heard from us yet, please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Marcy (email@example.com).
We are meeting frequently on Zoom. Drop in for our Kabbalat Shabbats on Fridays at 8pm for beautiful music by Aydin Mayers and inspirational moments and stories with me - and just to see everyone's friendly faces! Enjoy Torah Study on Saturdays at 11am to see friends and learn timeless wisdom. I also lead a bedtime story and Shema for the kids each evening at 7:30pm (except the first two nights of Passover) and we are offering special Hebrew school classes on zoom, with info being sent out to parents.
For security reasons, I would rather not put the logins on this blog, but you can email me for details: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you need some one-on-one support, we are offering counseling by me, the rabbi, (email@example.com) and by our Westchester Jewish Community Services Partner in Caring, social worker Jill Schreibman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We have several members who have offered to shop for others (Marcy can provide names: email@example.com ).
For Pesach, we provided free or donation-based Passover meals from a grant, and are offering three online Seders led by myself and by congregants (see an email from Marcy about how to log on to those, or email me). And check out my previous blog post for some digital haggadahs that you can use if you are running a zoom or Skype seder for your own family. (And in the post before that, I suggested tzedakah funds to help our neediest neighbors through this difficult time.)
My friends, this Passover, we will gather separately, but with one heart. I'm thinking of all of you and looking forward, please God, to the time when we can all be together in person again.
Next year in Jerusalem! Next year (and sooner)--may we gather at home and at shul together again!
With many blessings for health and happiness,
Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan
PS: Here are some relaxing guided meditations that I have recorded and posted on my personal website:
And here is a timely Seder supplement that includes a contribution that I wrote:
"Why is this night different from all other nights?" That' line has never applied to any Seder more than this month! Our Passover Seders will necessarily be different due to the emergency situation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For everyone's health, we must not have any guests in person at our Seder, but only people who are living in the same household already. Those of us who are liberal Jews can have online Seders (such as on Zoom) to include family and friends! (In fact, even some Orthodox Israelis rabbis took the unusual step of permitting people to include grandparents at their Seder via Zoom.)
If you are going to have some guests online, and want to share a digital Haggadah, there are several to choose from. Here are some ideas:
Bayit, a Jewish educaitonal organization, has shared a variety of digital resources for Passover, including the popular Velveteen Rabbi Haggadah by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, and some social justice-themed Haggadot:
For families with young children, or who want a simple illustrated Haggdah, you can get one free by signing up with Kveller, a website for Jewish parents: https://www.kveller.com/haggadah/
If you would like a mystical/Hassidic version, you can get the Breslov digital Haggadah: https://breslov.org/free-breslov-haggadah-download/
Update: And here's one more that has an environmental emphasis--and you can get it as a power point (great for zoom sharing):
Here are some ideas for using a digitual Haggadah:
If you use the digital Haggadah on zoom, you could send the link to everyone before hand, they can download and they can look at it on their screens. Alternately, the leader can share their screen. I suggest just sharing some pages briefly for a prayer or reading, and then stopping the share to allow for "face to face" discussion.
Mostly, I suggest keeping your Seder simple. The Seder is not just a script to be read, it's a framework for discussion. You might ask each person to share something they are grateful for or to prepare a song or discussion topic. We certainly have a lot of topics to discuss this year: about plagues, about freedom, about our hopes for the future. Whichever Haggadah you choose, use it as a starting point, not a script. We can try to think of what we have and not what we are missing this year.
It's also interesting to note that even in Biblical times, people couldn't always celebrate Passover appropriately at the correct time. Maybe this year we will celebrate as best we can this month, and have a modern version of the "Pesach Sheni," a second Passover, by gathering in person at a later date, God willing.
Wishing you all a good and meaningful Passover, and "Next year--together with everyone again!"
Former PCS Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan shares her thoughts (and some original photos) and invites your comments.