Temple Israel rabbi: How do we celebrate Passover amid the 11th plague?

Marcia Zimmerman
Marcia Zimmerman

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Marcia Zimmerman, rabbi, Temple Israel 

My focus right now is getting things done that allow congregants to engage in Passover, the most observed holiday by Jews worldwide [which begins April 8]. Often we travel to be with family for Passover. The holiday’s purpose is definitely to be together.

We don’t want this Passover to be the COVID-19 Passover. Everything doesn’t have to have that title on it. We can’t give it that much of a voice, right? Even though the reality is we are confined with whoever is under our roof, it’s still a holy day and a holiday for us to celebrate. 

What’s amazing — and we can’t take this for granted or think it isn’t a big idea — is that [a group of top] Sephardic rabbis in Israel have told everyone to Zoom their Seder. To use electricity — that’s unheard of! Saving a life, pikuach nefesh, is the most primary rule for any Jew and we need to take care of ourselves. 

People are calling this the 11th plague. This is a plague, it’s a pandemic. In light of that, it’s the perfect holiday to be upon us right now. We can really experience it. In the plague section of the Seder, we’ll put it in there but we won’t make it every aspect of the Seder. 

How do we celebrate in the midst of this circumstance? I always say, “You can’t control what happens; you can only control how you respond to it.” That’s the sermon. How do we respond to it? We need to keep Pesach the best we can and connect the best we can. Those are the ways we show our character as a people and individuals and with our families. 

You’re hearing of people dying or a 98-year-old father-in-law getting COVID and they’re not going to intubate him, depending on the course of the disease. People are playing God, and we are putting our medical community at total risk. It just really is unbelievable. 

And yet we have to hold on to hope. Next year at this time, God willing, we will have a vaccine and we’ll know more about the antibodies. I really believe a year from now we’ll be safe, but we need a year of testing the vaccine. Those are the things that science helps us with. The human endeavor and brilliance, which I believe is God-given, is showing itself in every aspect. 

Those are things we have to celebrate. Because anticipatory grief, which many people are feeling, is projecting only negative things into the future. The fear only helps us with the negative. That grief is real, because the world we knew three weeks ago is not the world we’ll maybe see ever again — I don’t know. But we have to also add into the mixture the possibility of insight of innovation and creation and the possibility of a world that’s different, but not bad. I think holding onto that is really crucial right now.