The evening of April 8 marks the start of Passover, one of the most important religious holidays on the Jewish calendar.
Jewish families and their friends usually got together to eat a special meal called Seder, read religious texts, sing and tell stories. It’s a time when the Jews remember how Moses led their ancestors into slavery in Egypt.
But social distancing measures in countries around the world mean that this year, Jews cannot invite other people to join them for the Seder meal.
Easter and Ramadan are also fast approaching, so the same dilemma faces Christians and Muslims around the world.
Some American churches and pastors ignore orders to “stay at home”, but for those who isolate themselves, how can they keep this sense of community at the heart of religious celebrations?
Move old ceremonies online
Rabbi Rick Jacobs lives in New York, the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States.
He is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which is the congregationalist branch of Reform Judaism in North America.
For those who have decided to host Seder virtually, Rabbi Jacobs has a few tips.
Topping the list is trying to adapt different parts of the ceremony to the current situation. “There is traditional hand washing during the Seder ritual,” he says.
“The truth is that it was more ritual impurities than cleanliness.
“But now we’re trying to do this ritual to teach our children that really effective hand washing is part of the safety and health of our community. “
He also has suggestions on how to make the experience more interactive.
“There is a time when traditionally you open the door to Elijah. You usually ask one of the youngest members of the Seder to open the door.
“The youngest member of the Seder may not be with you now.” They can recover their [tablet] and walk to the door of their houses and open it. “
“But the truth is that [it’s] a kind of ritual gesture, so how to take the sense of openness and the desire for redemption [forward]?
“We suggest a moment to go around the cat Zoom [and ask]”What are the things people are hoping for?” What are some things we are willing to do to bring more healing and integrity to our world? “
“The very substance of Passover is so much what we need right now. It is a story of the resilience of the Jewish people in a time of great difficulty and challenge and it is a ritual that reminds us to always have hope. “
It is also an important time of year for Christians, with Easter Sunday April 12. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion and is the most important holiday of the year for Christians.
Many people gather at the church during this time, especially Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Now the rituals and sacraments normally led by a priest in the church are done differently.
Carole Kutsushi, is a Christian living in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. “We will make Holy Communion together on Good Friday on Zoom,” she says.
“Because of the situation, we cannot get the bread you use in church, so we will use something that would mean that.
“We’re just going to take a piece of [ordinary] bread and grape juice, and pray over the elements then say fellowship [together and] take in unison. ”
Although Kenya is not yet fully locked, there is a night curfew and the government is urging people to stay at home.
Carole’s church generally had small groups of fellowships in each other’s homes every week.
Now, she says, they are holding virtual meetings and have increased the number of times they connect to each other.
“Our church leaders send scriptures and topics to discuss weekly. We have discussions about Zoom every Tuesday and every Friday, [and] we have prayer.
“It is a bit of a challenge, but I think it is also a good way for us to come closer to God in our own respective homes, even by involving children in reading the Bible. “
Having to work to stay in touch with his fellowship group has had its benefits, says Carole.
“I think it brought us even closer than before.”
A Ramadan like no other
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on April 23. Now is the time to remember the month when the Muslim holy book the Koran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims abstain from food and water during daylight hours to devote themselves to their faith and get closer to Allah.
Every evening when the sun has gone down, families and friends come together for the Iftar meal to break the fast. Many people go to the mosque to pray.
In the UK, a group of young Muslims are trying to use the new reality as an opportunity.
The Muslim Tent Project usually organizes an event called Open Iftar, where they have set up a tent in an iconic location like Trafalgar Square in London. People of all faiths are invited to participate in the meal.
This year they will hold a virtual Iftar on the first day of Ramadan and hope that thousands of people will join them.
The team sends out packs for people to create their perfect Iftar experience, including recipes, games, and fact sheets.
Zoom-based Iftar meals will continue throughout Ramadan, with a live call to prayer daily.
“This is the evening prayer called Maghrib, which is the time when all of us [break] our fast together, ”says Rohma.