Passover celebrations filled with improvising, irony during COVID-19 pandemic

As the sun set Tuesday night, millions celebrated the Jewish holiday Passover with a side of irony and an unconventional approach.

ORLANDO, Fla. — As the sun set Tuesday night, millions celebrated the Jewish holiday of Passover with a side of irony and an unconventional approach.

They sat down for a Seder, the ceremonial dinner that commemorates Passover, the biblical story of how God saved the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

Ehren McMichael of Longwood was one of them. Passover dinner typically begins with a prayer, but this year, it began with a phone call.

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McMichael’s grandfather couldn’t make it from Las Vegas because of COVID-19.

“(It’s) the first year I don’t have my dad here, or we won’t have friends here, so a day or two ago, my husband and I were talking about (if) we should even really do it, is it even worth it,” she said. “The holiday is really about sharing the story and the traditions.”

And that’s not the only thing different for the family. McMichael and many others also had a hard time finding the food they need for a Seder.

“Each part of the plate has a different, important meaning of the holiday,” McMichael said. “We don’t have any parsley, we don’t have any horseradish, and we don’t have the shank bone. They didn’t have very much left in the store, so we’re using tilapia for dinner tonight which we had in our freezer.”

For the past few weeks, Rabbi David Kay with Congregation Ohev Shalom has been offering Shabbat services via livestream and Passover Seder will be no different.

"This year with COVID-19 it’s making it very different … That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a Seder, it just might be a little unconventional,” said Kay. “We’ve been guiding people on how to do a virtual Seder, how to use some of the various platforms so they can see each other and talk to each other, if not be physically be in the same room.”

Kay said embracing the change is key, because at the end of the day, virtual Seders are better than nothing.

There’s some irony and a silver lining: A passage in the Passover story reads: "I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you.” It refers to the final of 10 plagues the Egyptians had to endure.

“The Israelites were told to go into their houses to stay there and don’t come out until the danger has passed.”

Similar to how we are now, as were are told to stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It has become something that we’ve made much more social,” she said. “But it is getting back to the basics and reminding you that your family is your first unit and that’s where you need to be happy and healthy."