BY HEATHER ROBERTS
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Several major holidays take place this week. This year, they are ancient celebrations with a modern twist, thanks to COVID-19.
“Typically, this is when our whole family would get together, and sit around the table and share a Passover Seder,” says Ron Schutz, President of the Jewish Community of Central Oregon.
Rabbi Johanna Hershenson, of Temple Beth Tikvah in Bend adds, “We gather together with friends, with families, with neighbors and we retell this story of redemption from slavery.”
For Pastor Evan Earwicker, “This is kind of our biggest moment of the whole year, is Easter week.”
Passover, Good Friday and Easter. These ancient holidays are steeped in tradition, marked by large family meals and church gatherings. Not this year.
Jewish families gather for a special dinner called a Seder, on the first night of Passover. Tonight, Central Oregon Jewish leaders use 21st-century technology to keep traditions alive amid the Coronavirus Pandemic. Rabbi Hershenson tells Central Oregon Daily, “I have prepared the Haggadah, the narrative for the Seder, the Passover dinner, on PowerPoint slides that I can share in the Zoom meeting.”
She also launched a YouTube channel, last week, to share educational components of this holy season, along with a little humor, “My husband and I yesterday, put out a video instructional on setting up the Seder plate. But, my husband was hidden behind me and he was my arms.”
Like Temple Beth Tikvah, the Jewish Community of Central Oregon is working with members to get up to speed on the technology, so they’re ready to take part in the festivities.
Schutz says, “We have to kind of remind people that they are being seen, so even though they’re home in their bedroom, or wherever they are, enforcing at least a sort of dress code helps keep everyone comfortable.” His congregation will share the Seder over Zoom, with everyone safe in their own homes. “It’s very different in some ways. It’s also kind of fun in other ways, because you’re now sharing it with a much larger group than your own individual family unit.”
While many have called this Pandemic “unprecedented,” Schutz says there is a strong connection between what’s happening now, and the original Passover.
“They were all hiding out there, that first Passover meal. The plagues were descending on each of them – literally plagues. And, there they were isolated in their own little place with whoever happened to be there with them, forced to stay inside while the plagues were literally passing over them.”
This time, though, they’re not the only people forced to isolate in place.
“The whole structure of our faith is based around the gathering, it’s based on being together in one place,” says Pastor Evan Earwicker, Pastor of Creative Arts for Westside Church in Bend. “So, to separate that out, or make that digital, is definitely a challenge.”
He says Westside Church spent several years beefing up its online presence. He never imagined it would be used as the only way to connect with members.
“It’s an adjustment to have an empty room and a camera, and that’s the only point of contact you’re having with those that are watching.”
From radio messages with families parked in a parking lot, to live virtual services using YouTube, Facebook or Zoom, Central Oregon churches are getting creative in sharing their message.
Pastor Earwicker is grateful, “The fact that we live in a day and age when we can gather online, digitally, is really a gift. And it actually allows us to continue being who we are as churches, as people of faith.”
There is still much to be learned during this time … about faith … about technology … about reaching out.
“Even if it was motivated by crisis, the fact that we really can connect through phone, through social media, through platforms like Zoom,” says Rabbi Hershenson, “Now makes it inexcusable for us to not be reaching out to parts of our communities that don’t show up voluntarily but might flip a screen on.” Pastor Earwicker says, “Faith communities have survived plagues before; they’ve survived wars before, they’ve survived intense persecution…People are looking to cling to things that have proven themselves to be stable. We think that faith is one of those things.”
Schutz adds, “Keep the faith and there’s hope.”