President Reuven Rivlin spoke Sunday with leaders from around the Jewish world to offer encouragement ahead of the upcoming Passover holiday, which begins later this week under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rivlin held a video conference with leaders from Brazil, India, Italy, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, his office said in a statement.
As governments apply social distancing rules and ban public gatherings in an effort to curb the virus’s spread, Jewish communities are being forced to come to terms with not being able to invite family and friends to join them for the traditional Seder festive meal, a highlight of the holiday and the Jewish year.
“This Pesach [Passover] will be very different from all other Passover holidays,” Rivlin said. “Rather than gathering with family and friends, we will all follow the guidelines for social distancing. Despite this, our values of mutual responsibility and of passing on our traditions from generation to generation, will continue.”
“No modern-day plague can break the chain that stretches back to the exodus from Egypt and binds our people together,” he continued. “Now more than ever, I feel that we are one family, with a shared history, shared values and a shared destiny.”
Among those who participated were Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, CEO of the Jewish Metropolitan Council on Poverty (Met Council) Rabbi David Greenfield and Rabbi Angela Buchdahal of Central Synagogue in New York.
Videoconference call this evening with leaders of #Jewish communities from around the world in Brazil, France, India, Italy, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.@HaSochnut @IsraelMFA pic.twitter.com/bwGTNvpYT3
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) April 5, 2020
Noemi Di Segni, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI); Mary Kluk, national president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies; and Robert Ejness, director of CRIF, the French Jewish community’s umbrella organization, also joined the call, as did Lebana Pankar, an activist in the Jewish community of India.
Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog told the online gathering that “the Jewish people around the world are dealing with an enormous challenge. This Pesach, the Jewish heart will beat in Israel and in the global Jewish community and there is no greater moment to demonstrate the mutual commitment that exemplifies our people.”
Britain’s Mirvis said, “Our Torah is the Book of Life. It requires us to choose life and so we must all act responsibly and follow the instructions of our government in order to protect everyone’s lives.
“There are also rays of light in the dark clouds above us,” Mirvis added. “Mutual responsibility, of each of us for our fellows and concerns about our environment. We must all remember that this, too, will pass.”
“There is no Jewish community in New York that has not experienced cases,” Greenfield said. “We feel as if we are once again in Egypt, in the spirit of these days. In our communities, there are many Jewish doctors. They are on the front line of developments in the fight against the virus, and we are very proud of them.”
Pankar, who is chair of the young Jewish Indian organization and member of the Board of the Indian Jewish Federation, told the participants of the impact the virus has had on her community.
“Like our friends around the world, we have closed all community organization and we are trying to create as many shared activities that people can join from home,” she said. “This is the first year I will not participate in the communal Seder, but the wonderful people of Chabad have made sure we all have wine and matzah.”
In a partial listing of Jewish casualties from the virus, the statement said 200 members of the French Jewish community have died of coronavirus, 12 Italian Jewish community members and four in Brazil, based on figures from Israeli embassies and consulates. There have been 49 deaths in Israel.
The week-long Passover holiday, which recalls the Israelite exodus from Egypt, begins on Wednesday evening.