Managing Passover and shivahs through COVID-19

Dear Ella,
This Passover is like no other. I’m a daughter of elderly parents and a mother of two kids in university. We have a fair-sized family and usually our seders are about 25 people who all come together.

With social distancing becoming a reality in our everyday lives and Passover being around the corner, I have no idea if I should host the seder as usual this year.

I’m afraid for my parents to be with so many people in close quarters. I’m afraid to have my in-laws, who have just come back from Florida. I’m afraid of this whole thing. If I don’t host, what will everyone do for Pesach?

What should I do?
Pass on Passover

Dear Pass on Passover,
Social distancing is the strategy our health system has put in place to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Without everyone taking their responsibility seriously, we could be in the same boat as China or Italy in a matter of days or weeks.

We are dealing with a global pandemic with a higher mortality rate for the elderly population and medically challenged.

Your parents fit that category, as do your in-laws. Add to that, your in-laws are supposed to be in self-isolation, as they have just come back from Florida.

I realize that Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays. That’s what makes it so hard to prioritize. Your heart is telling you to have the seder, but your brain is scared to death that someone you love might get sick.

This year, everyone should be having their seders with as few people as possible. Ideally, the people you live with only. If you are not observant, you can have a virtual seder through FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or other technologies.

Each person who is not taking this seriously is putting other lives at risk. Are you willing to gamble?

Here are some thoughts on how to have a safer seder: avoid guests from other households; plate the food in the kitchen, rather than passing around dishes or serving buffet style; wear protective gloves when making matzah, maror and haroset sandwiches. Washing hands is part of the seder – twice – but you can do it even more. Keep wipes and sanitizer available.

Add a special prayer to remind us of why this night is different than all others. Don’t let this plague take over your seder. It can still be warm and meaningful. Use common sense. Stay safe. Hag sameach.

Dear Ella,
I’m worried about my mother. Her last remaining sister passed away this week.

My mother is petrified to sit shivah because of COVID-19, but she’s feeling so guilty. She doesn’t want to deal with a house full of visitors and she doesn’t want to offend anyone by refusing to hug or take their hand or even air kiss.

By the time you get this, we will have worked something out, but I would be curious to know your thoughts.
Virus Gone Viral

Dear Virus Gone Viral,
To lose someone as close as a sister is devastating. To be torn about sitting shivah is something she should not have to add to her already heavy heart.
Your mom is right to be concerned and cautious. Her health is a priority above everything else.

Your poor mother is torn. Give her the permission she is seeking to mourn for her sister in her way. She doesn’t have to mourn alone, though. State publicly that the shivah is private. At the same time, reach out to the people you feel would want to pay a shivah call and possibly arrange for them to come one at a time, and practise social distancing.

The best way however, is through FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. There are many alternatives for people to pay a virtual shivah call.

I’m sure people will understand. Don’t forget, visitors are nervous as well. They will probably be relieved and appreciate the efforts you are making. At the same time, you are lessening their stress of making a shivah call as well. Condolences by phone or email is also an alternative.

COVID-19 has changed how we do things.