By Stephanie Goodling
No one was expecting to go through one pandemic Passover, let alone enduring a second. However, a year after the first one, Lehigh Valley clergy are much more prepared for what that means. All of them undoubtedly would agree on the importance of continuing to meet together however possible.
“I think that it’s very, very important during this pandemic to continue to have religious services, even if it’s on Zoom. People need it — need connection to community, need a spiritual connection,” said Cantor Ellen Sussman of Temple Shirat Shalom. “It’s emotionally and spiritually difficult, so I think that it’s important to have these ritual moments.
These will be Passovers that will be unforgettable. And it will be all the sweeter that we’re together when we go back to in-person.”
While everyone agrees that things are very different, some are finding themselves changing their habits entirely.
Congregation Am Haskalah’s Student Rabbi Armin Langer said, “For years, I would not have turned on my laptop on a Shabbat. Yet, for the past months, I have been leading Shabbat and holiday prayer online. The novel coronavirus pandemic changed almost everything. Most of all, it helped me understand my priorities: safeguarding life by not having in-person services and cultivating community by keeping on with the spiritual and educational work in our congregation. This seder will be different than other seders; we will be unable to sit around the same table. But, whether online with other community members or in small circles at home, we will still celebrate this special holiday of Jewish belonging and togetherness. And, hopefully, next year, we will celebrate Passover in person!"
While everyone is looking forward to that future, congregations are keeping busy doing what they can to stay connected.
“We’ve gotten really good at YouTube and Zoom and developing materials we can post, and we’re getting people directions and instructions on what they’ll need for the model seder. We’ve had to get creative in a lot of ways, but necessity is the mother of invention,” said Rabbi Michael Singer of Congregation Brith Sholom. “We’ve realized how important and really central the synagogue is to the life of people. Aside from the deep spiritual piece, it’s really an important social outlet for so many.”
Rabbi Nisan Andrews of Congregation Sons of Israel summed up the entire experience well.
“COVID has taught all of us that we are more flexible than we think and more interconnected than we know,” he said.