West Berkshire's Jewish community celebrate Passover in lockdown
WEST Berkshire’s Jewish community have spoken of the challenges of celebrating Passover in lockdown for the second successive year.
Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew) is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish year and falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the first month of Aviv, or spring.
During Passover, which is a celebration of the story of Exodus, Jews remember how their ancestors left slavery behind them when they were led out of Egypt by Moses.
The term Passover refers to when God ‘passed over’ the houses of the Israelites during the last of the 10 plagues and brought them out from Mizraim.
The festival, which this year took place between Sunday, March 27, and Sunday, April 4, has been celebrated by Jews since about 1300 BC.
On the evening before Passover starts, Jews usually get together with family and friends for an evening meal and a special service called a Seder (Order), where prayers and traditional recitations are performed.
However, this year, because of coronavirus restrictions, many had to celebrate with their own households and anybody they have bubbled up with instead.
Passover is celebrated with a series of rituals, with each symbolising a different part of the story.
The celebrations usually last for seven or eight days, depending on where you live.
During the meal, the story of Exodus is told from a book called the Haggadah (Narration).
Everybody takes part in reading from the Haggadah, with some parts read in Hebrew and some in English.
On the table there are three Matzah (unrisen bread).
At the start of the Seder, the middle Matzah is broken and the largest piece is hidden. Four small glasses of wine remind Jews of the four times God promised freedom to the Israelites.
Joseph Clarke, a member of the Jewish community who lives in Thatcham, said: “I usually spend Pesach with friends and family, but I had to celebrate it on my own this year, which was very isolating.
“Also, the Seder involves some level of singing and hearing yourself sing on your own is awful.
“I did manage to connect with some people over Zoom, but it can’t replace human contact.
“This year it was very timely because Passover is all about celebrating liberation and freedom.
“Something we will all be celebrating when restrictions ease.”
Rabbi Zvi Solomons, of the Jewish Community of Berkshire (JCoB) in Reading, said: “This is the second year that we have been unable to celebrate Pesach (Passover) with our whole community.
“We have had more than a whole cycle with coronavirus restrictions and although Zoom has helped us we are very much looking forward to getting back to a more normal religious life with guests and fellowship in full flow.
“We felt this particularly at Pesach as we normally have up to 20 people round our table, and this year it was just us and our children.”
He added: “Another big difference this year was around the food.
“There are strict rules about what you can eat during Passover.
“The food has to be certified kosher, to a much more stringent level than usual.
“Usually we travel to London to get our supplies, but this year because of lockdown we were unable to, so we had to get them delivered instead.”
Jenny Supper, a member of the Jewish community who lives in Tilehurst, said: “It is a lovely festival. It was obviously very different this year.
“I am in a bubble with two friends so I got to spend Passover with them and there were six others who joined by Zoom.
“I’m in my 70s and don’t really do technology so Zoom just isn’t the same. People lose connection and freeze.
“I can’t wait until all this is hopefully over and we can celebrate with friends and family.”