Dear OJC family and friends,

This year, we are observing Passover in the midst of this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are mandated — for the protection of our neighbors and ourselves — to stay in place and refrain from holiday gatherings.

Throughout the Jewish community, there is a tremendous amount of anxiety and sadness surrounding our preparations and plans for holiday observances. Passover may be the Jewish holiday that connects us most deeply and emotionally to our families and our tradition. In this letter, I will outline ways that we can reshape traditions so that we remain anchored to those things that bring joy and fulfillment.

As the rabbi who draws the legal boundaries for the OJC community’s religious behavior, I recognize that people read my words from different perspectives. For those who strive to live within the framework of Jewish law and rely upon me as their Mara D’Atra (halachic authority for the community), my opinion holds the weight of law. For others, my opinion may carry the weight of a meaningful suggestion. That being said, I offer you my position on what Jewish tradition asks of us under the current circumstances.

Passover is an eight-day holiday, beginning with 2 holy days, each accompanied by a seder, and ending with 2 holy days. These holy days are observed in the same manner as Shabbat, except with respect to rules about carrying in public and cooking. Throughout the centuries, Jews have met the minimum obligations of this holiday whether they were together in large family gatherings or in isolation. In these days when resources are not readily available and shopping is not necessarily safe, the rules of ridding our homes of hametz can be simplified. Our hametz can be placed in a cabinet separate from our Passover foods and sold via email. (Send an email to Rabbi.scheff@theojc.org specifying that you authorize me to serve as your agent, along with your address.) Our cooktops can be kashered without much fuss. Glass and plastic, along with a healthy selection of fresh vegetables and fruits, dairy and meats, can make our meals simpler and perhaps even healthier. The Rabbinical Assembly's Kashrut subcommittee has provided updated guidelines to simplify the preparation process for this year.

Platforms like Zoom make it possible for us to join our first-night seders with other homes virtually, without requiring the touch of a button on the holiday. Halachically, it is not possible to do the same for our second-night seders if they are being conducted at the appropriate time (after dark). That being said, I'm happy to discuss creative solutions for those who wish to explore other halachic options that would not require interacting with our devices. Moreover, a second seder inside our own households can take the form of a family story time, an intimate conversation, or a reflective exercise. Each household can choose whether the seder is conducted as a 3-hour "symposium" or legally reduced to its essential elements and performed as a 15-minute prelude and 15-minute postscript to dinner. Next week, we will send you a "Passover toolbox" of resources and ideas to help shape your particular seder experiences.

Jewish prayer is a communal and individual experience. It is not intended to be a spectator experience. Holiday prayers can be said at home on Yom Tov and Shabbat. Yizkor has been rescheduled to April 14, the eve of the seventh day of Passover, so that the community can gather virtually with a minyan before the onset of the last 2 holy days.

This Thursday, April 2, at 6:30 p.m. prior to the 7:30 p.m. minyan, and once again on Sunday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. following minyan, I will be available via Zoom to take your questions about Passover, the seder, and our observances. Feel free to join me on Thursday, Sunday, or both!

The OJC professional staff has collected and will soon provide accessible resources for you to use as you wish in order to make this holiday as meaningful as ever. I hope that you will commit to managing your expectations, to releasing yourself from the Passovers of the past for this one year, and to making the physical preparations over the next week easier on yourself so that the spiritual preparations can take precedence. Tomorrow's "News You Need to Know" will have a full schedule of all our Passover programming.

Chag kasher v'sameach, wishing you a happy and kosher holiday ,

Rabbi Craig Scheff