Nova Scotia

How Jews in Halifax are celebrating Passover during COVID-19

Public health orders to curb the spread of COVID-19 mean families can't gather together for Seder, the ritual dinner that begins Passover.

'This year is going to be very difficult for many people, especially for the older generation'

Rabbi Yakov Kerzner with the Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax says families are trying to stay connected through video conferencing, but it's not an option for everyone. (Beth Israel Synagogue)

COVID-19 has forced Jews in Halifax to celebrate Passover, which begins Wednesday at sundown, without their friends and family.

"This year is going to be very difficult for many people, especially for the older generation. Some of them are going to experience Seder for the first time by themselves, alone," Rabbi Yakov Kerzner with the Beth Israel Synagogue told CBC's Information Morning

Strict public health orders mean families can't gather for Seder, the ritual dinner that begins the holiday. It's a time where many generations come together to share food and retell the story of the enslavement and escape of their ancestors from Egypt to Israel.

Kerzner said people are finding ways to cope and stay connected thanks to video conferencing and the telephone, but added that's not an option for everyone.

"It will depend on the family," he said. "There's some in the Orthodox tradition where we don't use electronics, whether it's a phone or the internet on the holiday."

Rabbis have provided instructions online for people who are performing Seders on their own for the first time, he added. 

"What you have is a traditional ritual, but it becomes a very family-oriented holiday," Kerzner said. "[It's] probably the most celebrated holiday in the Jewish calendar."

He said it's strange to celebrate a holiday that's all about freedom at a time when many don't feel free.

Video conferencing is one way for people to stay connected during Passover, but Kerzner said some Orthodox Jews don't use technology during the celebration. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

"We're locked up in our homes, but freedom is not just the ability to be physically free. Freedom is the ability to feel that you've reached your potential, that you have the sense of individuality that you could express yourself," he said.

Despite families being separated during the holiday, Kerzner stressed there is much still to celebrate.

"There is a certain resilience which exists and that I continue to see even with people who are now somewhat isolated," he said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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