Magic moments from UPJ seders

April 14, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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One of the positive side-effects of the presence of COVID-19 in our lives has been the emergence of creative and innovative ways to celebrate Pesach with family and friends, even while physically distancing from each other.

Kehilat Shanghai’s communal seder

 Rabbis Keren-Black at his Seder

In the lead-up to Passover, Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) congregations throughout Australia, New Zealand and Asia offered online weekly Shabbat services and daily minyanim, lunch and learn classes, bubs and bagels get-togethers, cocktail chatter groups, Havdalah storytimes for families, uplifting clergy thoughts for the day and cooking classes.

The UPJ community celebrated the message of hope that Kehilat Shanghai brought to us all when that community hosted a safe, healthy and successful community “offline” Seder in a hotel, one of the few communities to be blessed with the opportunity to celebrate together in person. Attendees went through strict hygiene safety measures (temperature check, QR tracking code, completion of quarantine) and the hotel entirely privatised one of its restaurants. The congregation also live-streamed the seder by Zoom for community members who were not able to attend in person.

More than 10 online seders were offered by UPJ congregations throughout Australia, New Zealand and Asia. To assist with virtual seders, two UPJ congregations – the Jewish Community of Japan and Temple Beth Israel – shared online versions of their haggadot, and for use at online Shabbat services a flip-book version of the UPJ’s siddur, Mishkan T’filah has been made available online via the UPJ website.

UPJ Co-President David Knoll joined his wife’s family’s international seder, with attendees in Australia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which was held over breakfast to allow for the different time zones.

In addition to the traditional Four Questions and the inevitable and often-repeated question “Is it time to eat yet?”, virtual seders were filled with tech-related questions, such as “Where can I find the Zoom link?” and “Would you please mute your microphone?

Many have said that the 10 Plagues remind us of the afflictions of the past year, including COVID-19 and the bushfires. Inspired by this, attendees at Beit Shalom Synagogue’s online seder in Adelaide shared insightful comments about freedom and slavery:

  •  Rabbi Gary Robuck led a dual congregational seder with attendees from the Progressive Congregation of the ACT Jewish Community and Beit Or v’Shalom in Brisbane. His was a more traditional seder plate.

    We are free from external distractions, but we are slaves because we are not free to go anywhere;

  • We are free because our actions can save lives, but we are slaves to the changes caused by COVID-19;
  • We are free from our normal busyness, but we are slaves to the reactions and responses of the government.

Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black from the Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism conducted an online seder with an orange prominently displayed on the seder plate in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews, and others who are marginalised in the Jewish community, and a roasted beetroot in place of the shank bone, a common substitution in vegetarian households.

In addition to seder offerings, the UPJ’s Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors of Australia, New Zealand and Asia presented an inspiring Service of Healing that was live-streamed on the UPJ Facebook Page on 12 April. A recorded version can be viewed by the UPJ Facebook Page:

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