The Sunday Edition

Passover, Easter and Ramadan have a new resonance in the midst of our current crisis

Passover, Easter and Ramadan are each defined by togetherness — eating and praying together. So this is a strange season for Canadians of faith, especially those far away from the people they love. But for Sarah Weinman, Anne Theriault and Pacinthe Mattar, these holidays also have a new resonance in the midst of our current crisis.

This April is a strange season for Canadians of faith

L to R: Sarah Weinman is the author of The Real Lolita and the editor of the forthcoming true crime anthology Unspeakable Acts. Anne Thériault is a Toronto-based writer who writes about feminism, mental health, and parenting. Pacinthe Mattar is a senior producer at Antica Productions and spent 10 years at CBC, where she was a long-time producer at The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti. (cheleneknight.com/Sinisa Jolic/Pacinthe Mattar)
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Passover, Easter and Ramadan are all usually defined by togetherness — eating together, and praying together. So this April is a strange season for Canadians of faith, especially those far away from the people they love.

But all three holidays are taking on a new resonance in the midst of our current crisis.

The Sunday Edition reached out to three Canadians, each of whom is observing one of these religious events. Here's what Sarah Weinman, Anne Thériault and Pacinthe Mattar had to say.

Passover: 'Our Jerusalem is to be together'

Sarah Weinman: "Normally our tradition on the first night of Passover is for just the immediate family to get together and do the Seder together. When I was young, [we spent it with] my maternal grandparents. They passed away within six months of one another, when I was 15. Then it was just four of us (me, my parents and my brother.) [Then my father] passed away in 2012.

I think because of the pandemic, there is this added resonance of the Passover story.- Sarah Weinman

"For so many years of my life, I had associated Passover with grief and loss, in thinking about those in my family who had been there and then were no longer there. It was as if their ghosts seemed to have taken over the table. And I was just starting to come out of that. Part of it was getting possession of my grandparents' dining room table, which my mom had shipped to me last fall. To be able to conduct a Seder, even though I was the only one physically present at the table, it was really moving and it was remarkably similar to the best of the Seders in the past. I logged in to Skype, as did my mother and my brother. We read from the Haggadah, and then we ate together but separately.

"There is a line in the text of the Haggadah, which is what Jews read over the Seder nights. Loosely translated, it means in every generation, we must feel as if we ourselves had been cast out of Egypt and are travelling to get to Israel. I think because of the pandemic, there is this added resonance of the Passover story. We are all separated from one another. But we are trying to find our way back together as a people, as a community, as families.

"The last line of the Seder is 'next year in Jerusalem.' And for us, our Jerusalem is to be together."

Easter: 'A sacrifice is something that you choose to forgo to benefit someone else'

Anne Thériault: "Some friends and I were bleakly joking when everything started changing, 'Well, now we're giving up seeing each other for Lent.' That started me thinking that as much as we can feel right now like all of these freedoms are being taken away from us, really what we're all agreeing to do is to give up these freedoms of our own will to keep each other safe.

Really what we're all agreeing to do is to give up these freedoms of our own will to keep each other safe.- Anne Thériault

"This Lent has brought out more feelings of faith and community in me. It does give me comfort to think of those Bible stories of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert and going without food or water. To think that now I'm sacrificing something that feels very important to me, and I do have that model in him.

"I think when we think about Lent, and we think about the idea of giving something up, we often think about it in a negative context — as in, I'm taking something away from my life. But often a real sacrifice in real life is something that you choose to forgo in order to benefit someone else.

"It is hard to think past Easter right now. It's kind of been a goalpost to just get to Easter, and now we're going to have to figure out what happens after that. I think right now, we can only take it week by week, or day by day, or hour by hour. When you think about this kind of enormous, unformed future that feels so overwhelming, all you can do is think, 'This is what the next hour is going to look like.'"

Ramadan: 'This pandemic is only further highlighting the very backbone of Ramadan, which is helping others'

Pacinthe Mattar: "When I was growing up with my family, Ramadan was easily maybe the warmest time of the year. It was hard, but then you knew that as soon as the sun went down, you were eating with your family and in good company.

"Then I left to go to university when I was 17. That first Ramadan alone was so lonely. First of all, there is a huge difference in even what Ramadan felt like. In the Middle East and Dubai, the whole city, the whole country, the whole so-called Muslim world was fasting together. Here I am at 17 in Mississauga, Ont. Ramadan hits and it's just like any other day. There isn't one single marker of this time that is so rare and so special. Then it would be time to break fast, and instead of this magical spread that my mom would make, it was just Kraft Dinner or a sub. It felt very crushing.

When I think about the difference between the haves and the have-nots, nothing has made that clearer than this pandemic.Pacinthe Mattar

"There were definitely a couple of years where I just really did not do a good job with Ramadan. I posted a Facebook status saying, 'Ramadan is just around the corner, and if you're anything like me and have had a hard time and maybe need some support, let me know.' Within a day there were maybe 20 or 24 people who were like, 'Oh, yeah, I totally relate to this.' So I started a Facebook group [about] how can we make this better together? I think it's over 150 people now. We've done iftars in the park where people bring their kids and there's people praying on the grass at sunset. The spread is everything from Popeye's chicken to taboule to doughnuts to soup to roti. It feels beautiful. It's the closest thing to home that I have felt since doing Ramadan at home with my family.

"But now, even that's not possible. So the aloneness of doing Ramadan without family is going to be kind of felt even exponentially. I feel like I'm facing down something that's going to be extremely lonely. But that loneliness is going to be shared by almost everybody else, and there's a collective relief or support in that.

"Ramadan is supposed to be a time of reflection, of deep appreciation and gratitude for one's blessings and the richness we have in our lives — and also putting that into sharp contrast with those who often go without. When I think about the difference between the haves and the have-nots, nothing has made that clearer than this pandemic. One of the things that I did was give to the Muslim Welfare Centre. They have a COVID pandemic plan to get food and resources to people who will have a harder time these days. So I feel like this pandemic is only further highlighting the very backbone of Ramadan, which is helping others. I think it just makes it even more of an urgent time to do what you can if you're in a position to help."

Click 'listen' above to hear Sarah Weinman talking about Passover, Anne Thériault talking about Lent and Easter, and Pacinthe Mattar talking about Ramadan.

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