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Jewish Congregations In Dallas Celebrate Ancient Holiday Of Passover Online

Passover, one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, it begins Wednesday night. This year, though, things are different, because of COVID-19.

Lasting a week, Passover celebrates the ancient Israelites' escape from Egypt. Generations of family often gather around the large, symbolic Seder meal, sometimes with friends.

Online services aren't new for houses of worship. At Temple Shalom in Far North Dallas, services have been livestreamed for years, Senior Rabbi Andrew Paley said.

But "it's only become recent, over the past few weeks, that we have moved away from being in the chapel, the sanctuary, to sort of a remote location where we've been able to facilitate our worship through various platforms," he said.

Paley says some synagogues, like his, use video meeting software Zoom. Others, Facebook Live. Forced by COVID-19 to maintain physical distance, Paley adds that celebrating Passover as a congregation remotely is the safe and responsible thing to do. But it's not the same, or even a substitute.

“It's a replacement this year, under these circumstances, that allow us to experience community differently, and hopefully in a meaningful way," he said.

That's the hope of Rabbi Daniel Utley, too. He serves 5 miles south in a different synagogue — Temple Emanu-El, one of the oldest in Dallas, is approaching its 150th birthday.

Utley says Passover is a celebration of faith and freedom, of shared blessings with generations of family and friends — all at the same table. That's what makes it so special.

“Each person can add their own experience into the story, the story that asks us to think of ourselves as slaves who have gone out of Egypt," he says. "How does that change our view on the world? How do we see injustice with that experience in our collective history?"

Utley says the history of sharing face-to-face experiences and stories across generations, that's what will be missing this year.

"That's what'll hurt. It's certainly going to bring some tears to people's eyes to not be able to gather around with their grandparents," he said. "In the positive, we are all taking part in helping out the world by remaining distant."

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.