Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, Hillel

A bulletin board for Penn State Hillel in the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020.

In the second year of the pandemic, the coronavirus continues to exact a toll on people’s lives — including those who celebrate religious holidays.

Christmas was difficult for many, and others are confused as to how to handle the upcoming Easter holiday — and Jewish religious holidays have not been spared either.

Passover is a holiday in the Jewish tradition that celebrates the Jews’ escape from slavery in Ancient Egypt. The holiday is important to practicing Jewish people and has a lot of history — especially surrounding the 10 plagues Moses cast on the Egyptians and the Jews’ rush out of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea.

Passover began on March 27 and will end on April 4.

However, Rabbi Hershy Gourarie of Penn State Chabad said the pandemic makes it difficult to host large gatherings.

Gourarie said the number of people in attendance at Chabad’s Passover Seder event will be low this year.

However, Gourarie also said the “increase of vaccines will cause a better turnout for this year,” because he said vaccines are helping to end the pandemic.

Rabbi Rob Gleisser, senior Jewish educator at Penn State Hillel, agreed with Gourarie and said “online [initiatives have] become the norm, and Passover will just be another thing online.”

Passover Seder is typically an in-person gathering, but Gleisser said he thinks the online transition will cause the “community to connect” and to “look forward to being in person next year.”

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While the stress of restrictions is affecting Passover gatherings, the spirits of Jewish people are still intact. The Jewish people have a history of overcoming struggles and rising when the odds are against them, and the restrictions of the pandemic are not any different, according to Hannah Kaufman, springboard innovation fellow at Penn State Hillel.

Kaufman said there are still ways of coming together — even over Zoom — to spread love and connection.

She said the Jewish community is “resilient and flexible,” and it has been reaching out to students and “involving families in the Seders over Zoom.”

“Something I like about being Jewish is [that there’s] always a way to be resilient in times like this,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman compared the pandemic to the song “All The Way Up.” She said gathering restrictions and other difficult times are hard for the Jewish people, but the faith is strong.

For Gourarie, Gleisser and Kaufman, the pandemic may decrease the size of the gatherings, but it will not diminish the strength of the meaning of the holiday.

“The message of Passover is still strong. That freedom is not based on circumstances,” Gourarie said. “We are free. Nobody can take that away from us.”

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