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Jews can celebrate Passover ‘alone together’ during coronavirus, Bel Air rabbi says

Jews in Harford County, who in prior years would celebrate the holiday of Passover with family and friends, must spend the holiday apart this year because of the state’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

People might be conducting their seder, the festive Passover dinner, solo, but they will not be alone, as many Jews around the world who also are dealing with the pandemic are doing the same thing, according to Rabbi Kushi Schusterman of Harford Chabad in Bel Air.

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“There are thousands, if not millions, of Jews this year who are for the first time in their life celebrating Passover with no one else,” Schusterman said Tuesday.

Passover, which begins Wednesday and continues until the evening of April 16, is a time when Jews celebrate the ancient Hebrews’ escape from slavery in Egypt and their journey through the desert to the Holy Land, a story chronicled in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament.

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The holiday falls in the midst of the Christian Holy Week, and members of that faith also must determine how they will observe Good Friday and Easter Sunday in the midst of stay-at-home orders and Maryland regulations that limit gatherings to 10 people or less during the COVID-19 crisis.

Such orders make it very challenging to hold services in houses of worship or community gatherings. Harford Chabad had planned to host a community seder, with some people traveling from Hawaii to attend, but that cannot happen under current restrictions.

“That’s actually the message of Passover, is, you have these things that limit you and sometimes you have to do a reset,” Schusterman said.

The rabbi noted that he and his family, as well as other Chabad members, have found “silver linings” in the restrictions. He appears in several videos on the Harford Chabad website, giving instructions on how people can prepare for the holiday and the insights they can find in the Passover Haggadah. The website has a full section dedicated to celebrating Passover during coronavirus.

One lesson from the rabbi indicates how people can replace “pharaoh” with the word “ego” when discussing the ruler of Egypt who kept Hebrews enslaved and replace Egypt with the phrase “my limitations.”

“I’m enslaved to my limitations because my ego has oppressed me, and it makes it a very relevant conversation,” he said regarding how people can process having to remain at home during Passover.

Jews might be in their kitchens or dining rooms, holding a Passover seder by themselves, but they are not alone — they are “alone together” with others doing the same thing, according to Schusterman.

“They’re really doing it with millions of other Jews who are also doing it alone in their living room,” he said.

People also can remember their ancestors or loved ones who have died and are with them in spirit during the seder.

“No one is ever alone,” Schusterman said. “God is with them.”

The rabbi stressed that Jews are instructed by the Torah to make their health a top priority, so while it might be painful to observe Passover without friends or family, it is the right decision to protect one’s health.

“It’s an act of service of God when a person takes care of their health,” he said.

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Harford Chabad serves about 250 families, and people in Schusterman’s congregation have been observing guidance to slow the spread of coronavirus, which he said is “encouraging.”

“God willing, next year we will have a seder with everyone we love and hold close to us,” Schusterman said.

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