Editorial: During a pandemic, Holy Week arrives via internet

Passover began Wednesday, April 8, with the first Seder, during which Jews tell the ancient story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The second Seder was Thursday and the holiday ends April 16. Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ state-sponsored execution, was Friday and today is Easter, when his tomb was found empty. These are enormously important religious holidays for the Jewish and Christian communities, going back thousands of years. In 2020, however, they will be celebrated by worshippers practicing self-quarantine at home while temples and churches are empty.

This year, Holy Week arrived in a time of pandemic. It is a plague not recounted in ancient texts but rather documented by daily death tolls posted on newspaper websites and repeated all day long on cable news. We hear about body bags being ordered in bulk; of loved ones barred from an ICU where a family member is dying, for fear of contamination; of refrigerated trailers parked behind city hospitals to store the dead; and of nurses and doctors desperate to keep people alive — and themselves free of contagion — without sufficient protective equipment to do the job safely.

In the face of a pandemic that is both viral and political, we can’t seem to let go of the partisan vitriol. The side you favor is blameless and being treated unfairly; the side you loathe is made up of liars and cheats. There are even those who mocked the whole idea months ago when told this pandemic was coming and we should be prepared for it. 

America will need some sort of fact-finding commission to get to the bottom of this, if only to help us prepare for the next one when it arrives. But perhaps this Holy Week, we can call a truce on the name-calling and insults and the pointless dog and pony shows before the television cameras and instead consider the real heroes in our communities and realize just how much we owe them. 

They are the front lines of this war, putting themselves in grave danger every time they suit up and enter their workplaces. At the end of their shifts, they wash up, disinfect themselves and go home to their families. Truly, we can’t thank them enough. 

Many houses of worship have been live streaming sermons and prayer readings that congregants, or anyone else, can see on their laptops or other devices. That will continue this week. In the case of Sacred Heart Parish in Cutchogue, Monsignor Joe Staudt has been alone at the altar on Saturdays, doing the reading, giving his homily and then posting it on the parish website and Facebook.

Rabbi Michael Rascoe at Temple Israel in Riverhead has done his best to connect with the 70 or so families and individuals who make up his congregation. Many of them are older and are not familiar with Zoom and how to connect to it. So instead of remote community Seders on Wednesday and Thursday night, the rabbi will be at his home, with one other person — safely sitting six feet apart, of course. It will be just the two of them, unconnected to the outside world, retelling the Passover story of a people’s flight to freedom.

“I am trying as best I can to connect with everyone,” Rabbi Rascoe said. “On Friday night and Saturday morning I will send out a Zoom link and anyone can join it in if they want. We will need a quorum of at least 10, so I am hoping for more than that.

“And in this time we are living through, there will be plenty to talk about.”