With 'Seder-To-Go', Burlington's Jewish Community Adapts To COVID Passover
As the religious leader of Burlington's Jewish community, Rabbi Eliyahu Junik aims to strengthen not only the Jewish community of Vermont's largest city, but also the community at large.
Rabbi Junik's community is currently gearing up for its Passover programming and outreach through Chabad of Burlington. He joined VPR’s Mary Engisch to talk about what has and hasn’t changed in the last year of COVID restrictions. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Engisch: Can you begin by talking about Passover and its significance?
Rabbi Junik: To commemorate our liberation from ancient Egypt, we eat unleavened bread on Passover. When we left Egypt, Pharoah kicked us out in haste, and we did not have time to let our bread rise, and thus we baked it quickly. And to commemorate that, we eat unleavened bread, or matzoh.
The highlight of Passover is the Seder. This year it falls on Saturday, March 27, and Sunday, March 28.
What might a Seder meal look like in some Vermont homes this year?
Passover is really a family-oriented meal. A lot of times in the past, we have had big Seder meals. But it can be done at home, just like almost everything else in Judaism; it’s also in the house, and not just in the synagogue. And last year, we started an initiative of Seder-to-go kits.
What’s in the kits?
We have three matzohs, the wine, the Seder plate and all the traditional things to put on the Seder plate. In order for each and every house to celebrate the Seder with all its traditions, we pack that all into one box.
We plan to do that again this year because there are still [pandemic] restrictions, and it's not safe to gather in big crowds. So we will offer the Seder-to-go kits with everything that you would need to have for Seder, and a guide to guide everyone.
We eat the three matzohs, we eat bitter herbs to represent the slavery that we had, the salt water to represent our tears and we drink four cups of wine leaning to our left, to show our liberation and the freedom that we have today.
How about weekly worship during COVID-19? What’s changed?
Synagogue is an important part of Judaism. We all come to pray together. But in Judaism, the traditions are really family-oriented. We have the Friday night meal with the family. Almost everything that we do in Judaism is done in the home. We had Zoom meetings and Zoom celebrations. This let the people hold on to the faith in a strong way throughout the pandemic.
I’m sure all organizations saw the thirst and the yearning, and we saw a tremendous attendance and people reaching out privately, wanting to study. The thirst is there. We also started the first Jewish day school in Vermont during the pandemic.
What might be a universal message from a holiday like Passover?
Our godly soul must free itself from the bondage from our thoughts and our ego.
And be able to snap out of it and to realize that we could be free, and we could be making the world a much better place and that tomorrow could be a much brighter day.
What’s the first thing you’d like to do once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted?
Have a big Shabbat meal… with all the friends.
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