For second consecutive year, Passover celebrations altered by COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Passover was one of the first major religious events affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, and though vaccinations have ramped up, many are opting for virtual or scaled-down celebrations this year.

"We Zoomed our Seder's last year. And, of course, we're Zooming it this year. We don't particularly care for it, but that's what we've got to do. Hopefully next year, we'll get it back in the house," said Burton Horwitz, a congregant at Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh.

Horwitz was born into the synagogue, and has long hosted Seders.

"Fifty-something years of having this Seder, and we're not used to being alone," Horwitz said.

Typically, Horwitz and his wife host 50-60 people for Seder; this year, he will be joined by a small group of fellow family members who have been vaccinated, with others following along on Zoom.

"I look forward to getting my family and my friends back together again so that we can have this mass chaos Seder that we've always had," Horwitz said.

Through Thursday, NCDHHS reports more than 20% of adults in North Carolina have been fully vaccinated, and the state's metrics have dropped from peaks in early January. However, some feel the risk of prolonged periods indoors, while eating, drinking, and singing is too high to return to normalcy.

Though technology has improved making it easier to connect with people, there are certain traditions and experiences lacking online.

"The sound of what it means to break the special matzo bread, and what it means to open a door (for Elijah) It's not a virtual door," said Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue.

Still, Solomon is trying to look at the positives, such as connecting with family friends cross-country or overseas.

"Basically, everyone in our circle, in our community in general, is doing some kind of hybrid experience, where there are some in-person, and then some likely going to be on Zoom, so even though people don't feel like traveling, or are not fully vaccinated, and just continue to have concerns which are valid (can celebrate)," Solomon said. "We're encouraging people to come together if they can, but giving them resources through the synagogue for another Zoom-like Seder."

Solomon and Horwitz are hopeful that improving COVID-19 metrics and increasing vaccinations will allow congregants to observe the High Holy Days in September together.

"Our tradition takes very seriously that you should live by the Commandments, and God forbid not be hurt any way by them. So we are very keen on preserving life and preserving health, so we are encouraging everyone to do that," Solomon said about celebrating Passover physically apart this year.

Passover begins Saturday evening and lasts eight days.

"They say 'Next Year in Jerusalem.' We're hoping 'Next Year in Person.' All in-person. No more hybrid," Solomon said.
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