Sonoma County Jews go online to bring families together for Passover
At sundown on Wednesday, Ann DuBay and Jeremy Olsan of Santa Rosa, like millions of Jews around the world, will sit down for dinner celebrating one of their faith’s most popular holidays, a ritual Passover feast that commands participants to relax, pray, sing and drink four glasses of wine.
It has historically been an occasion for families to gather, and the DuBay-Olsan clan numbers at least 30 relatives: parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins hailing from Southern California, the Bay Area and Oregon.
But the strictures of the coronavirus pandemic — curbing travel and even familial crowding — have put the kibosh on age-old tradition, creating a gulf that can only be spanned by the internet.
So when DuBay and Olsan sit down for their candlelit dinner — their Seder — they’ll do so alone in the cramped trailer on the lot where their home in the Mayacamas Mountains is being rebuilt in the wake of the Tubbs fire. They will bond with the usual band of relatives on a laptop computer via Zoom, the video platform gaining popularity for business and social connections.
“It is going to be a little bit of pandemonium,” said Olsan, an attorney who is using Zoom to replace conference phone calls for business negotiations. DuBay has used it for conferences in her job as a manager and spokeswoman for Sonoma Water.
Olsan’s cousin, Rabbi Leah Malmon Lewis of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, will conduct the service.
Rabbis, pastors and priests in Sonoma County have likewise been using Zoom to connect with their congregations and plan for Passover, which commemorates the ancient Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. The age-old holiday this year comes under compelling modern circumstances.
Conducted according to a Jewish text called the Haggadah, a Seder includes dipping a finger into wine and spilling a drop on a plate while calling out the Hebrew name for the 10 plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians, which ultimately convinced the pharaoh to let Moses and his people go.
“This year we’re going to take out an 11th drop to acknowledge today’s plague,” said Rabbi Steve Finley of Congregation Shir Shalom in Sonoma.
The Hebrew word for Egypt means “narrow place,” relating to the confinement of slavery, he said.
“In each generation we are supposed to feel (at Passover) as if we just left Egypt,” Finley said. “This year it might be easier feeling our narrow place now confined by a plague.”
The tenth and final plague on Egypt was the death of every firstborn son, and God, according to the book of Exodus, commanded Moses to tell the Israelites to mark lamb’s blood over their doors so death would pass over them.
At Passover, Jews are spiritually in Egypt, “participating in the Exodus,” said Rabbi Ted Feldman of the B’nai Jewish Center in Petaluma.
During the Holocaust, Jews gathered secretly to celebrate Passover in their homes in the ghettos of Europe under Nazi domination, he said.
“Today Jews are confined by coronavirus,” Feldman said. “In this sense it is safe for everybody inside.”
Worldwide on Tuesday, there were more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, and more than 81,000 deaths, but officials were saying that social distancing appeared to have slowed the pandemic in some places.