Sign In Forgot Password

CBC News interviews Rabbi Anibal Mass and Dr. Rena Secter Elbaze about Pesach

22/03/2021 05:00:00 AM


Families, synagogues connect virtually to celebrate Passover in Manitoba

Winnipeg Rabbi says he's been fine-tuning technology to reach more people during Passover

Marianne Klowak · CBC News · 

Rena Secter Elbaze explains what she'll have on her table for a traditional Seder meal that her family will have with loved ones on Zoom during Passover. 0:59

What sold Rena Secter Elbaze and her husband on their River Heights home was a dining room large enough to host dozens of family members and friends during big festive celebrations, such as Passover.

Last year, it was just three around the table because of COVID-19 — Secter Elbaze, her husband and their daughter. They held Seder, a traditional Passover meal, via Zoom with her father, siblings and their families. This year will be different again. 


"I am sad that we can't have the whole family for a second year in a row. My kids would have come in from out of town. My father and siblings would have been here," said Secter Elbaze.

"I will miss seeing them all in our huge dining room that can seat everyone at a very long table."

Secter Elbaze says the last time all of her children came into town for a celebration was Chanukah in December 2019, two months before the pandemic hit. (Daniel Elbaze)

Passover falls on March 27 this year and runs for eight days. The holiday marks the liberation of the Jews from slavery and their exodus from Egypt 3,000 years ago. 

Secter Elbaze still plans to set her table for Seder as if everyone was there, preparing and putting out all the symbolic foods and making it look festive. They will use Zoom again to connect with family.

Shaarey Zedek not reopening

Her family would normally worship at Shaarey Zedek synagogue. Even though the province has increased capacity limits at places of worship to 25 percent, Rabbi Anibal Mass says the synagogue, which has around 1000 families, has been closed for almost a year now and won't be reopening for Passover.

Mass says the biggest reason for not holding services is because of a core belief of Judaism: preserving a life.

"Preserving a life is our highest value and that even trumps coming to services. We want them to stay at home as long as possible so they can stay safe," said Mass. 

"As soon as most of our people get the vaccine then we will have a conversation about how to reopen," said Mass — adding the building has been open for bar and bat mitvahs with a limit of 45 people. 

Last year Passover services went online, and that will happen again this year with more high tech equipment that has been fine-tuned to reach more people. 

"This year I will be doing it from this building using our fancy live streaming services that we have here with all the gear. We are going to put everything together to create a very high quality stream of the Seder, with music, readings and insights. I think it is going to be wonderful," said Mass.

Sharrey Zedek is holding a community Seder online for people who are alone and have no one in their home to celebrate with. Secter Elbaze says the synagogue is also offering kosher catering so people can order a Seder meal in a box with all the traditional dishes.

In-person and online Passover service

Over at Temple Shalom on Grant Ave., Rabbi Allan Finkel is reconfiguring pews and equipment to accommodate space as he excitedly prepares to reopen for the first time in a year, while still holding online services.

The first in-person live service will be on Passover with a small group of fifteen congregants who have signed up.

The Jewish community is getting ready to celebrate Passover starting this weekend for eight days. Once again, it will look different because of COVID. 2:32

"To once again see faces present, to watch their lips move as they sing through their masks and hear their muffled voices singing with us along the way, it is beyond belief. I have chills, the best chills thinking about this whole thing," said Finkel.

With most people now comfortable with Zoom, Finkel is asking congregants to go one step further in celebrating Seder online. 

"Using the theme of  'room at the table', we are saying invite those who are marginalized or alone in the community to your table. On Zoom it is really easy, add on a couple of more links and get the resources to them and assign them readings so they can be part of the celebration," said Finkel.

What both congregations didn't bank on is doubling or even tripling their reach to include countries around the world as a result of moving to online, something they say will continue even when everything opens up again. There is much, they say, to be grateful for. 

"I think we always learn from adversity. I like to say we don't bounce back, we bounce forward," said Finkel.

"Technology has been a blessing that allows people to stay connected no matter what happens to them," said Mass.

And while Secter Elbaze is grateful, she is hoping next year will be different in a better way. 

"I hope next year we don't have to think about these things, right?"


Wed, 22 May 2024 14 Iyyar 5784