Australia's Jewish community is adapting Passover traditions in the time of coronavirus

The Friedman family is observing Passover a little differently this year Source: SBS News

Passover is usually a time when the power goes off and Jewish families and communities come together in celebration. In 2020, they're having to adapt, but remain determined to mark the occasion.

Social distancing restrictions have prevented many Jewish families from gathering for Passover this year, but the community is finding new ways to keep connected during the holy ceremony.

On the first night of the Jewish holiday, families usually attend a small service at their local synagogue, before coming home to gather around the dinner table for a ritual feast called Seder.

Rabbi Yossi Friedman at Maroubra Synagogue said some families’ celebrations tend to last all night. 

“They recount the ancient story of the Exodus; how over 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people were redeemed from bondage in ancient Egypt and went on the way to receive the Torah in the desert.”

“So we not only think about the ancient story, but we think about how it applies to us today.”

The Friedman household usually holds a party for over 20 people. But due to current social distancing regulations, Passover preparations are a little different in 2020.

The Friedman family at home
The Friedman family at home in Sydney

While the Orthodox Jewish tradition prevents the use of electricity during the Seder, some like the Rabbi made exceptions.

"We're going to Zoom with our family members to show them our table and sing some of the songs with them," he said.

The family has also written letters to grandparents who won’t be able to join them.

While he’s grateful to have some quality time with immediate family, Rabbi Friedman said he expected to feel “quite alone from my community” this year.

“We'll have to just make the atmosphere ourselves.”

Those in aged care facilities will also be celebrating Passover in isolation. 

COA, the only Kosher meals on wheels service in NSW and the ACT, is working overtime to ensure the elderly are staying well fed over the holiday. 

“[Many] are left without the supplies they need and we really needed to fill that gap,” Rachel Tanny, CEO of COA, said.

“Yesterday, we delivered around 1000 meals and 200 fresh fruit and vegetable parcels.”

From his home in Melbourne, Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black of the Leo Baeck Centre held a celebration for those who weren’t able to gather with family nor in places of worship. 

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Rabbi Keren-Black improvised by preparing kits filled with meals and items for the Passover Seder.

“What we've offered instead is a Seder in a box, and of course the free gift of a roll of toilet paper,” Rabbi Keren-Black said.

The Rabbi also opted to turn power on during the Seder in order to Zoom his Passover celebration.

“The extended community could join us and we believe we've had people joining from various different parts of the world," he said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Additional reporting by Naveen Razik. 

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