Mar. 26—Beth Sholom Congregation of Johnstown's communal seder will combine the traditional stories, wine and symbolic foods, along with modern technology, such as laptops, tablets and cellphones, this year.
The ritual feast will be held remotely, beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Rabbi Irvin Brandwein hopes two dozen or more people will participate in the Zoom event on the first night of Passover, marking the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
"People urgently need fellowship and contact," Brandwein said. "This is a basic human need, like food and water. People need to have contact through personal sharing.
"There's a big need for worship. There's a great need to worship God and a great need to gather together for that purpose, not to be worshiping the Lord in a solitary fashion, but as a group."
In 2020, Passover occurred in the early days of the pandemic, so the congregation quickly organized a conference call seder in place of the one it usually holds in the synagogue.
"It was precious," Brandwein said. "It was wonderful. It taught us that we can still be a congregation and we could still worship together in that traditional manner in spite of the pandemic, in spite of the lockdown. We were still able to do that."
Participants this year will prepare their own foods at home and then join together on Zoom.
"Even though we're separated, we'll be together," Marcia Kissel, Beth Sholom's treasurer, said. "What a blessing that we have this technology to make it possible."
Congregation members will be familiar with the format, since the synagogue has been sharing weekly services online during the pandemic.
"I've grown very accustomed to it for several reasons," Kissel said. "I think the main one would be that people who have moved away from town and now live out of town, a lot of seniors and people that we have within Johnstown who are homebound due to age or infirmities, they're able to join us now.
"That has really expanded our sense of community because we've had people from California, Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, all over the place, New York, Canada. And it's been terrific to celebrate with the whole community, not just the people that are here in the building."