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The evening of 8 April is the beginning of Passover, one of the most important religious festivals of the Jewish calendar.

Jewish families and their friends would usually gather together to eat a special meal called a Seder, read religious texts, sing and tell stories. It’s a time when Jews remember how Moses led their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt.

But social distancing measures in countries around the world mean that this year Jewish people can’t invite others to join them for the Seder meal.

Easter and Ramadan are also fast approaching, so the same dilemma is being faced by Christians and Muslims across the globe.

Some US churches and pastors are ignoring ‘stay at home’ orders, but for those who are isolating, how can they keep that sense of community at the heart of religious celebrations alive?

Moving ancient ceremonies online

Rabbi Rick Jacobs lives in New York, the epicentre of the outbreak in the US.

He is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which is the congregational arm of Reform Judaism in North America.

For people who have decided to host Seder virtually, Rabbi Jacobs has some tips.

Top of the list, is to try and adapt different parts of the ceremony to fit the current situation. “There’s the traditional hand-washing during the Seder ritual,” he says.

“The truth is that was more about ritual impurity, not cleanliness.

“But now we’re trying to make that ritual about teaching our children that washing your hands really effectively is part of keeping our community safe and healthy.”

He also has suggestions on how to make the experience more interactive.

“There’s a moment where traditionally you open the door for Elijah. You usually ask one of the younger members of the Seder to open the door.

“It may be that the youngest member of Seder is not in your house now. They can pick up their [tablet] and walk over to the door of their houses and open it up.”

“But the truth is that [it’s] a kind of ritual gesture, so how do we take the sense of opening and of longing for redemption [forward]?

“We’re suggesting a moment to go round the Zoom chat [and ask], ‘What are things that people are hoping for? What are the things that we are willing to do to bring more healing and wholeness to our world?”

“The very substance of Passover is so much of what we need right now. It’s a story of the resilience of the Jewish people in a moment of great difficulty and challenge and it’s a ritual that reminds us to always have hope.”

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