With Passover, Easter and Ramadan looming, clergy scramble to create holidays at a distance
These three faith leaders, who normally lead worship within walking distance from each other in Northwest Washington, are all scrambling to find socially distant ways to celebrate major religious holidays this month. They are joined by clergy and the faithful around the world, including at well-known Christian, Jewish and Muslim sites in Jerusalem and beyond.
On Sunday, Christians will launch Holy Week with Palm Sunday, preparing to recount the biblical story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Since St. Margaret’s canceled services, including for Easter on April 12, Weinberg has been working on a sermon about the life and message of Jesus that he will post on YouTube.
At The SHUL of the Nation’s Capital, Shemtov has personnel arranging boxes that include matzoh and the other traditional elements of a Seder meal to be distributed to the Jewish community. The rabbi, who avoids the use of electronics on holy days, will lead a live-stream demonstration of the Seder before Passover begins at sundown Wednesday.
“Being alone is antithetical to the spirit of Passover,” said Shemtov, whose synagogue is attended by President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
For many families, the multigenerational aspect will especially be missing because older people are in isolation, Shemtov said, and Jewish families often invite people who have no place to go to join them for the Seder meal.
“People are doing the absolute best they can,” Shemtov said. “It’s different and not as joyous as other years have been, but people are focusing inward on their family and personally as opposed to outward.”
In Jerusalem, the strict coronavirus social distancing regulations that have been in place for most of March look set to continue through April, upending traditional holiday plans for Jews, Muslims and Christians and threatening the country’s tourism industry.
Passover, Easter and Ramadan typically draw hundreds of thousands of international visitors and pilgrims of all faiths to Israel, but this year Christian and Muslim leaders have accepted that flagship events will be carried out with only essential clergy and, in many cases, streamed online for followers.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said police patrols would be stepped up to enforce the social distancing restrictions and ensure people adhere to all the regulations.
For all Christians groups, the restrictions mean annual parades are canceled and the number of people at the main prayer ceremonies will be vastly reduced. The Holy Fire Ceremony, an Orthodox tradition that takes place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem’s Old City where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and later resurrected, typically draws 25,000 the day before Easter.
At the Haram al-Sharif holy sanctuary — the third holiest site in Islam, which includes the al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock — the gates have been shuttered for more than two weeks. The site, which is also holy to Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount, is closed to Jewish and other non-Muslim visitors too.
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