A 2nd pandemic Passover has it's challenges, but rituals, foods remain focal point

·4 min read
Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky (left) and Jonathan Richler, seen in this file photo, say Passover is an important time to pass on Jewish traditions and teachings. (Paula Gale/CBC - image credit)
Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky (left) and Jonathan Richler, seen in this file photo, say Passover is an important time to pass on Jewish traditions and teachings. (Paula Gale/CBC - image credit)

Jews in Newfoundland and Labrador are marking the second Passover since the pandemic began, but reduced public health restrictions this year have made it easier to enjoy the rituals and foods of the holiday.

Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky of the Chabad of Newfoundland says the move into Alert Level 2 on March 27 — the first day of Passover — allowed some small groups to have the traditional seder meals together.

"We had the chance to get together with our tight 20, for us that meant we had one family the first night of Passover and another family over the second night of Passover," he said.

"So even though, yes, the pandemic is still going on, thank God [it's] definitely a little bit easier this year."

Chernitsky said some people marked the occasion at home in their own bubble, however, so the Chabad also put together seder meals for pick up.

"We started last year during the pandemic, we also gave out seder kits. There are six items that are used during the seder celebration, traditionally placed on a special plate or on top of three matzos," he said.

"So we put those kits together and offered them for pick up to whomever wanted."

Passover is one of those times when the Jewish tradition is passed on to the next generation in the rituals and the things we do during the seder. - Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky

Chernitsky said he's hopeful it will be possible to have a larger, more normal celebration next year.

"Celebrating Passover, we read about the slavery and exile for our forefathers in Egypt, but God took them out and everything changed from one extreme to the other, from the most terrible conditions to flying high," he said.

"We strengthen our faith, and we've been through rough times in the past, but things always go better."

A traditional seder plate has six items.
A traditional seder plate has six items.(The Associated Press)

But no matter the circumstances, Chernitsky said the holiday is important to continue the customs and traditions.

"Passover is one of those times when the Jewish tradition is passed on to the next generation in the rituals and the things we do during the seder."

Passover foods

Jonathan Richler, who operates Jewish Deli in St. John's, says the food of Passover is a good way to pass on those symbols and rituals.

"We dip bitter herbs in saltwater two times, it's to remember the bitterness," he said.

"It's one thing to sit around and listen to a story for three hours, it's another thing to have interactive mediums. So, food not only sustains you, keeps you at the table, but it's a good way to learn."

For example, Richler said, the charoset eaten during the seder — which for Ashkenazi Jews is a blended mixture of apples, cinnamon and walnuts with sweet red wine — represents the clay that the Isrealites used to make bricks to build the pyramids.

He said those are the kinds of recipes he learned as a child, mostly from the women in his family.

"You learn by observation and you learn by your parents or whomever just allowing you to play with the food. As you grow older, it becomes important to you, but my mom was the biggest teacher for most of my recipes,"

"Although my chicken soup recipe was really inspired by my bubbe, because like any good eastern European Jew, you gotta put a heap ton of dill in your chicken soup and make sure it's extra fat as well."

This is like Jewish Christmas. It's the biggest day of the year. - Jonathan Richler

During Passover, Jews don't eat anything that's been leavened. Richler said that means avoiding different foods depending on where you are in the world — like no bread or beer, for example — but that sacrifice is for a reason.

"There's a lot of restrictions, but that is to remind you of doing with little, or doing with less. Forty years in the desert teaches you a few things," Richler said.

"As I explain to my friends around here, 'Hey man, this is like Jewish Christmas.' It's the biggest day of the year."

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