In virus-hit Brooklyn, an Orthodox rabbi takes his Seder online
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In virus-hit Brooklyn, an Orthodox rabbi takes his Seder online

‘When circumstances abruptly change … we need to adapt and serve effectively,’ says self-described liberal rabbi Shlomo Segal of Congregation Kehilat Moshe in Sheepshead Bay

Rabbi Shlomo Segal, left, and his family wave goodbye to participants after he conducted a virtual Passover seder for members of his congregation, friends and family and broadcast it on YouTube and internet dial-in connections from his home in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn during the current coronavirus outbreak, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in New York. From left, are Segal, daughter Shira, 12, wife Adina and daughter Rayna, 8. (AP/Kathy Willens)
Rabbi Shlomo Segal, left, and his family wave goodbye to participants after he conducted a virtual Passover seder for members of his congregation, friends and family and broadcast it on YouTube and internet dial-in connections from his home in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn during the current coronavirus outbreak, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in New York. From left, are Segal, daughter Shira, 12, wife Adina and daughter Rayna, 8. (AP/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK (AP) — For centuries, on the first and second nights of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the youngest child has asked his or her elders, “Why is this night different from all others?”

This year, the nights are truly different. And Rabbi Shlomo Segal is among the spiritual leaders who are adapting to a Passover in the shadow of COVID-19.

The 40-year-old self-described “liberal” Orthodox rabbi has brought his Seder to YouTube, so that Jews can mark the holiday traditionally, even without the tradition of family gatherings.

“We’ve never done virtual Seders here, but Passover is an important time. The virtual Seder was in the context of how we’re responding to the COVID-19 crisis. In times of crisis, people turn to faith,” said Segal, leader of Congregation Kehilat Moshe in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn.

Rabbi Shlomo Segal holds a ritual seder plate in front of a computer screen while conducting a virtual Passover seder and broadcasting it on YouTube for his congregants, friends and family members in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn during the current coronavirus outbreak, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP/Kathy Willens)

Said Segal’s wife, Adina: “Things are so tenuous now. We want to try to keep our ties with our community. People do need spiritual nourishment.”

Segal started conducting Friday evening Shabbat services via YouTube several weeks ago, when social distancing rules were put into place in New York.

Most Orthodox synagogues dismiss online Shabbat prayer because it is forbidden to use electronic devices on the sabbath; Segal finished his services before sunset, to abide by those rules.

Rabbi Shlomo Segal holds a copy of his Passover haggadah, a guide to the seder and the holiday service, in front of his laptop computer for participants to view while broadcasting the service via YouTube and internet call-in connections to his congregants, friends and family members from his home in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn during the current coronavirus outbreak, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in New York. (AP/Kathy Willens)

Some Orthodox authorities have said virtual Seders are acceptable, while others would forbid the practice.

Segal’s synagogue includes a range of congregants, from the very observant to those minimally so. To keep people engaged, including his own 8- and 12-year-old daughters, “I generally inject a lot of humor into my services while maintaining an essential dignity,” he said.

Rabbi Shlomo Segal, right, holds his laptop so participants see his daughter Rayna, 8, left, dressed in a white robe and wig as the prophet “Elijah” during a virtual Passover seder, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in New York, in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, as the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing rules continue. (AP/Kathy Willens)

Online Seders are an invention born of necessity, Segal said.

“All I know is that when circumstances abruptly change … we need to adapt and serve effectively,” he said “We felt that this was a time that required flexibility. It’s tough times.”

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