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Passover Message In A Time Of Plague

Seats in a Jewish temple
The Jewish holy period of Passover begins at sundown Wenesday.

This week, many religiously observant people are trying to find extra meaning in the traditional messages of their faiths as they continue to face the coronavirus pandemic. For Christians, ministers have emphasized the coming of new life to offset the constraints of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

But an older religious tradition than Christianity has a perhaps even more apposite message. Jewish Passover observances begin at Sundown on Wednesday.

At one level Passover is a liberation story, chronicling the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington said that resonates in today’s context.

“We recall what is was like for our ancestors in captivity. We are somehow to put ourselves into that experience as well. It’s not just a passage between activities, but it is more of an active listening ritual that we do,” said Dubowe. “Coming from captivity to liberation is a measure of hope that does not just apply to people observing the Passover, but it is for all of us.”

She said there will be a day everyone will be liberated, however one defines that.

The Passover Seder is a festive service and meal with specific foods and rituals that guide the reflection on the escape of the Jews from Egypt; Matzo as unleavened bread made because they did not have time to bake when they left Egypt headed for the Red Sea. Dubowe said an apple and nut dish is supposed to remind them of the mortar and bricks the slaves had to make for the Egyptians. Other food elements evoke new life and the tears shed in captivity, she said.

One element of the story of deliverance from slavery is, well, plagues, 10 of them, visited upon Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to let the Jews go.

“We traditionally have 10. Now we have 11. The 11th plague is the COVID-19 virus,” said the rabbi. “It’s very important for us to bring it forward and onto the table. How could we not?”

She said this story is relevant to all of humanity.

“Even to this day we recognize that there are people in various parts of the world who are oppressed. And because we tell this story it reminds us of our responsibility and that our work is not done. There is much more for us to do,” said the Rabbi.

Passover Message From Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe

Jews around the world will be celebrating Passover this Wednesday at sundown – the largest yearly gathering of Jewish families and guests and one of the most observed of all Jewish holidays. However, this year, millions of Passover observances will be held virtually. It will certainly be a challenge as the Passover celebration is an immersive experience infused with rituals, symbolic foods, nostalgic smells, questions, answers, stories, treasure hunts, songs, and more. This ancient observance follows the Jewish teaching that each and every person must retell the biblical story of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt to freedom as if they too lived through this. It is indeed a powerful story and it remains relevant to this day. On this Passover as we endure the fear and grief brought on by the global pandemic currently happening, we can relate more to the entire story of our biblical ancestors—not just the joy of freedom, but the agony of oppression and being at the mercy of forces beyond our control. The essential message for this year is to recognize the power of human decency and responsibility. We must use this power in all ways possible because that is the answer to true freedom, which is hope and faith for all of humanity.



Listen to the full interview.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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