Social Distancing: Stay Present -- But Distant -- This Passover

Apr 8, 2020

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, all of our lives have changed in some way. Maybe that means you’re working from home for the first time or having to put off a major life event like a wedding or funeral.

It might mean you’re out of work, taking an unexpected financial hit …or juggling work while having your kids at home.

In our series Social Distancing, WFAE’s Sarah Delia speaks with you, our listeners, about the challenges you’re facing. WFAE is trying to do its best to work remotely, so the majority of this series, including the interviews, are being done from Sarah’s dining room table.

Dusty Klass
Credit Temple Beth El Charlotte

In our latest installment, Sarah speaks to a Charlotte rabbi who is preparing for a different type of Passover this year.

Faith leaders are used to being the source people turn to for answers. But in the new age of social distancing and combatting a pandemic, that job just got a little more demanding.

Understandably, people have a lot of questions.

Thirty-four-year-old Dusty Klass, a rabbi at Temple Beth El in Charlotte, is one of those faith leaders trying to answer those questions.

People are missing that human contact, Klass says, and that includes her, as well. Klass lives by herself and as a self-described extrovert, she’s still getting used to the idea of spending Passover alone. That includes Passover Seder, a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the holiday.

"In general, Jews do things in community," Klass says. "I find my faith in interaction with other people, I find God in my interaction with other people. So there is something very, very strange about preparing to sit down at my table by myself to conduct this ceremony that is so energizing when there are other people to share it with."

The Passover holiday celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and lasts 7-8 days depending on which religious calendar you follow. The good news -- as far as social distancing goes -- is that it’s a holiday celebrated in the home.

Typically, an important part of the holiday is to remove foods with five specific grains -- wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt -- from your home because those grains ferment and rise when they come into contact with water for 18 minutes. That rising of grain is banned during Passover as a reminder that when the Israelites fled Egypt, they left with unrisen dough.

Klass says some are relaxing that rule this year, given social distancing and limited trips to the grocery store. 

"I have found that many families are just not paying attention to that at all -- it’s enough that I can feed my family on Tuesday," she said. "I'm not going to clear out the cabinets. But I also found people putting some of the more wheat-related things in a box in the garage for the week."

Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, Passover would include friends and family gathering, especially on the first and second nights, for Seder dinner. 

"Passover is a home-based holiday," she says. "So what’s hard about this is that it’s often a time when a lot of our people travel to each other. This is when grandparents get to see their grandkids. This is when all the kids come home. And this is when dad or mom or the matriarch or patriarch -- whoever it is -- brings everyone together. A lot of food, a lot of wine, a lot of laughter, a lot of different generations of people interacting with the meal and with each other in different ways."

But this year will be different, there’s just no way around it. Klass says she’s encouraging congregants to find what works for them, and not to get too caught up in whether the holiday looks or feels different than it normally does. 

"Instead of leading a Seder for myself, I might open my journal and respond to a bunch of reflection questions based on the Seder and eat a big bowl of matzo ball soup and call it a night," she said with a chuckle. 

Or, she says, she might hop onto a Zoom call-turned-Seder dinner with friends. There are options she says -- which is what she’s trying to remind herself and others.

Temple Beth El will have a virtual second night Seder Thursday evening for people of Jewish faith in and out of Charlotte to join. 

Seeing one another during this uncertain time is key she says, even if it’s virtual. She’s still conducting religious classes and services, now through a computer screen.

That space, her living room turned into a virtual temple, is one that she knows will be different from what people are used to. It will look different and feel different. But what she hopes is the same is that charge you can get that can only come from human interaction.

That, she hopes, will transmit through the screen. That, she hopes will be the same.  

WFAE wants to hear from you. If you’d like to share your story on the new challenges you’re facing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, give us a call and leave a voicemail. The number is 704-916-9114. Or go wfae.org for more information. Follow WFAE for the latest news. And we hope you and your loved ones are taking care. 

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