All photos provided by Greg Francis Photography
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Passover is the Jewish holiday celebrating the exodus of the Hebrew people from enslavement by the Egyptians. Jewish families gather in their homes every spring. The holiday starts tonight, and the observance lasts eight days. Jewish families retell the story on the first night:
Moses led his people out of Egypt, but not before God cast the Ten Plagues upon Egypt. The last was the slaying of the first born, and the Hebrew people would paint lamb’s blood on their thresholds, telling the Angel of Death to “pass over” their homes.
After that, the pharaoh let the Hebrews go. But, they left in such a hurry, they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. On their journey, they would go to receive the Ten Commandments, and find the land of Israel.
So to commemorate, Jewish families retell the story in a specific order; “seder” is Hebrew for “order.” Each piece of food and ritual symbolizes a part of that journey. One of those parts is the “matzah;” unleavened bread that is eaten for 8 days to remember the suffering, journey, and redemption of the Hebrew people.
“What’s most important about Passover is that it’s a holiday that is celebrated in the home,” Rabbi Peter Stein of Temple B’rith Kodesh said. “This year there’s a lot of challenge, because people will ordinarily gather in their homes…. Thankfully we don’t have to restructure the holiday itself.”
Rabbi Stein is trying to remind and teach families that families and people can still have a beautiful and meaningful service. He also wants to make sure that the Jewish community remembers two of Passover’s key lessons.
“One is the prayer that is sung with the refrain of ‘daienu,’ which means ‘enough,'” Rabbi Stein said. “It’s a song that says gives thanks for what we have, and not to wish for more. It’s important for all of us right now, and to minimize the situation, but to give thanks for what we have, to be grateful for food, shelter, and technology to keep us together.”
“The other piece is that Passover is a holiday about hope, resilience, and renewal” he said. “The closing line of the service is ‘next year may we be living in peace and freedom. It’s OK for us to acknowledge disappointment, but to end it by saying we are hopeful.”
“It’s the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday,” said Meredith Dragon, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Rochester.
The Jewish Federation is one of 150 across country. Dragon describes it as the glue of Jewish community, and to keep Jewish community up and running.
“Our mission is to build a strong and safe Jewish community,” she said. “Through philanthropy, engagement, engagement, and advocacy.”
Through this time, their people are working from home when they can, Dragon says “even though our doors are closed, federation is fully open.”
“This is one of those moments in time when it’s so important to have a federation,” Dragon said. “We’re able to respond in good times and in crisis.”
By working together with all of the Jewish leadership in Rochester, they can unite and present consistent services to the community. As it’s the time of Passover, the Federation wanted to help people celebrate a holiday about freedom, in isolation.
“It’s a holiday where the food is very important,” she said.
So they created “Seder in a box.” Each box feeds one person, and they contain all of the food, drink, and special plate needed for the meal. It also includes the prayer book which helps family retell the story, called a “haggadah.”
On Monday and Tuesday — with the help of Inspired Catering — they delivered boxes to 400 households all across the Rochester area.
“We’ve ensured that 400 households are able to celebrate the holiday,” she said. “We had more volunteers than we could handle. It felt good to do something special and honor what we need to do in our communities right now.”
Temple B’rith Kodesh is a reform temple in Brighton, which is currently closed. While they have moved many services and events online, they will not be hosting a seder online, but instead they will offer a joint Thursday morning service at 10:30am with Temple Sinai. They also have support on their website.
Rabbi Stein is doing his best to spiritually lead, uplift, and teach a congregation during the crisis.
“What I find is it’s really letting me focus on the most important aspects of being a leader and a rabbi,” he said. “Which is trying to offer support, connection… Stripping away all the trappings, saying ‘let’s sit and talk,’ offer a prayer, or asking what it means to still have Shabbat and holidays under these circumstances.”