Congregation B’nai B’rith to hold second Zoom Passover seder
Congregation B’nai B’rith is celebrating Passover virtually for the second consecutive year.
The Santa Barbara synagogue will celebrate Passover, which begins at sundown Saturday, through April 3. Other Jewish congregations will observe Passover through April 4.
“The experience of Zooming to Passover again is really making us fully aware that we have been in this pandemic for a full year,” Rabbi Stephen Cohen told the News-Press Tuesday.
Passover, as described in the Torah, celebrates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery under ancient Egypt and the 10th plague on Egypt “passing over” the houses of the Israelites.
“Passover was a time of sheltering from the angel of death, so the story of Passover echoes the feelings of the pandemic,” Rabbi Cohen said.
While the pandemic impedes on the synagogue’s ability to hold large gatherings, the sentiment of this year gives insight into the feelings of the ancient Israelites.
“We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and Passover is a celebration of new beginnings and liberation and leaving slavery,” Rabbi Cohen said. “With the vaccines, we can see we’re on our way to freedom.”
Clergy members planned a fully virtual program for Passover with its most prominent event, a ceremonial meal and service on the first night called a seder, held via Zoom.
The congregation added small seder gatherings when the county reached the red tier last week, such as a service at senior living facility Maravilla for congregants who may not be accustomed to video-conferencing software.
Traditionally, Jewish families hold seder dinners in their homes and invite friends and family, and B’nai B’rith holds a large seder at the synagogue for those who’d prefer to celebrate as a large group. A couple hundred congregants attend.
This year, families can join a Zoom meeting where Rabbi Cohen will lead the ritual.
There’s also a children-oriented seder where Assistant Rabbi Daniel Brenner explains the Passover tradition in a way kids can understand.
“Passover is a holiday that is all about engaging children. The Talmud, being the major component of Jewish law, really goes into detail about children being part of the seder,” Rabbi Brenner said.
“The seder is the telling of a story about how a group became a people,” he said. “It is really important for us that our children become a part of that story.”
He called the seder “the great common denominator of the Jewish faith” because it is the synagogue’s most-observed holiday.
Part of Passover is a switch to unleavened bread called matzah, which doesn’t use rising agents like yeast. Some strict observers throw out everything from pasta to corn as well.
B’nai B’rith caters meals, which families had an opportunity to order, for those who struggle to cook their own Passover meal. It also provides free matzah. (Call to ensure there’s matzah available before pickup.)
“We’re really trying to offer as much as we can under fairly challenging circumstances,” Rabbi Cohen said.
Last year, staff members quickly pivoted online for Passover, so this year is less daunting.
“We’ve been using almost exclusively Zoom, and the community is engaging at extremely high levels. It’s really been wonderful,” Rabbi Brenner said.
Over the past year, B’nai B’rith has celebrated all holidays online and held its weekly services via Zoom.
To learn more about B’nai B’rith’s 2021 virtual Passover, go to cbbsb.org/passover.