Religious leaders are finding creative ways to stay connected with their communities during the holidays while respecting the restrictions brought forward by COVID-19.
The upcoming days and weeks are especially important for three large religious communities in Greater Victoria; Passover begins on Wednesday, April 8, Easter begins with Good Friday on April 10 and Ramadan begins on April 23.
For Rabbi Harry Brechner, who leads Victoria’s Congregation Emanu-El, Wednesday’s Seder dinner will be very different than usual.
“In my own family we usually have 25 people gathered for a Passover Seder,” he said. “We’re going to be maybe four people this year.”
On Tuesday, April 8, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry participated in a conference call with more than 130 religious leaders, and urged communities to partake in celebrations virtually.
“We can still celebrate and care for those around us in virtual ways,” she said. “I encourage people to continue to look for those connections online.
“To the followers and congregations around the province here in B.C., please, now is our time that we need to pay special attention to our elders and our seniors. Our elders hold our history, our language and our traditions and are a precious part of our communities around this province.”
The shift is significant to most celebrations, including Passover, which emphasizes togetherness in the celebration of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
Specific foods are usually required for the celebration, but so far the congregation has been good at ensuring everyone has access to the ingredients they need.
“My synagogue managed to ensure that everyone who didn’t have the wherewithal to go shopping for things like parsley, often used as a symbol of spring, have been able to put together the symbolic food for everyone in need,” Brechner said.
The congregation, which has more than 250 families has also been hosting regular gatherings online over Zoom.
“It’s so nice to go into the gallery and see all the peoples’ faces and see that we’re all doing the same thing at the same time,” Brechner said.
Greater Victoria’s Catholic community is also streaming masses online, with Greater Victoria Bishop Gary Gordon leading live-streamed masses during Holy Week and this weekend’s Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.
“Though we are unable to gather in our traditional ways during these holy days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are together in Spirit and Truth (and remotely with live streaming),” Gordon said in an emailed statement.
“The sadness of our separation and the loss caused by the coronavirus is our collective global experience this Easter season. With perseverance, vigilance, and great charity to remain at home, we will truly experience the inner freedom and joy promised by the Risen Christ. We will be made stronger by this ordeal and we will emerge into new life and hope.”
Victoria’s Masjid Al-Iman Mosque has restricted its services since March 13, asking the vulnerable to stay home for daily prayers and cancelling all congressional prayers until further notice.
In the meantime, Imam Ismail Nur has been hosting lectures online for the community to watch. Black Press Media reached out to the BC Muslim Association to learn about what alternative options will be available during Ramadan, but did not receive a reply.
In the meantime, however, Brechner reminded everyone that now is a time to be kind to yourself as well as others.
“Go easy, if you can’t get it exactly right that’s okay; we’re living in a difficult and different time,” he said. “The psychic and spiritual energy you need to keep the anxiety at bay and to maintain being positive … that takes energy, so you may have less energy than you usually have, so be okay with that.”
– With files from the Canadian Press