Friday, March 27, 2020

Coronavirus Update March 27: Why We Can't Pass-Over Passover

From the Rabbi's Bunker

Really, I love New Zealanders.  They just get it.  Can we all move there?  OK, so they have a city named Christchurch - I'll bet they wouldn't mind if we changed it to ShloymeShul.  They're THAT nice.  Here are two newspaper front pages from NZ.

Shabbat Shalom from the rab-bunker. 

Three Zoom events for this weekend 
(check our e-nouncement email for full access information for those who wish to access via phone):

- Join Beth Styles and me for a brief, musical Kabbalat Shabbat service this evening at 6.  The link is  

- Also, tomorrow morning at 11, we'll be starting a weekly Torah study, this week led by Rabbi Ginsburg. The link is

 - And Sunday, just as we did last week, at 1 PM we'll have a Healing & Hangout Zoom session, where we'll begin with a few healing prayers, and then time for free flowing conversation.  The Zoom link is

Here's another Shabbat siddur for you to try, from the Havurah movement:
Siddur Haverim Kol Yisrael.  It contains Friday Minchah, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Ma'Ariv.  All services are complete and traditional, with linear translation and transliteration of everything, and gender neutral translation.  A gift, from the Havurah Movement to America's shuls and minyanim.  Really nice.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of amusing memes that have been going around...


Israeli President Rivlin reads stories to children - with translation into several languages
Israeli President Rivlin reads stories to children - with translation into several languages

Why We Can't Pass-Over Passover

We are all finding our own ways to navigate through this crisis, where our most patriotic acts would seem to involve withdrawing to our basements and washing our hands.  We've just entered the new month of Nisan, the biblical new year, a time typically heralding new beginnings and the renewal of body and spirit.  This year the opposite seems to be happening.  I was just doing a funeral at our cemetery next door (for the second day in a row) and the air felt so fresh, the sun shining brightly and the first buds are in bloom.  The world looks so beautiful, but something is so awry.  We have never experienced anything like this, and we know that we are still closer to the beginning than the end.

Still, we've settled into our routines and life has regained a sense of rhythm.  Shabbat and Passover will help to anchor us and remind us where we are on the calendar - which reminds us where we are in the greater scheme of things.  While we undoubtedly have a long way to go before we reach the "bend in the curve," we know that bend will arrive, and that our sole task for now is that every action be calculated to keep ourselves safe and keep as many others as we can alive.  Survival itself becomes the mitzvah, and, for most of us, survival has never been this tenuous.  We can look forward to a more liberating summer, perhaps, and a time when a treatment is found that releases the shackles of this form of slavery.  But we wake up each morning wondering if that slightly scratchy throat or sniffle is just a seasonal allergy - or the first stages of something that could cascade uncontrollably to our demise in a matter of a couple of weeks.  

This is what it means to be alive right now.

And as I watch the carnage on TV and see the numbers mount - and go next door to the cemetery more and more - I need to compartmentalize my frustration that so many of these deaths could have been prevented.  What matters more now is not the deaths that have happened, but the ones that will happen in two weeks, or a month, if we don't use the moral force of what voices we have to make sure that our hospitals have all the assistance they need to keep people alive, and that all our leaders are encouraged to take this thing deadly seriously - and are called to account when they don't.

This Passover will be hard, but not even close to the most challenging in Jewish history.  We're going to have to give up our large seders with extended family, but we'll be able to stay in touch with them virtually.  We all live under the shadow of the angel of death, but our odds are far better than those who have come before us.

Read about the secret Seder held at a concentration camp, right under the nose of the Nazis and you'll understand why we are compelled to make our Seder night a night different from all other nights, even while we are in the midst of the 11th plague.


The conditions within the Vaihingen Concentration Camp were horrific, especially during that dreadful winter of 1944-1945.The Jews living within this Nazis concentration camp were imported from the Radom Ghetto in Poland in order to engage in slave labor for 12 hour shifts, without a break.They built armaments, dug tunnels for bomb shelters, and performed many other highly physical tasks for the Nazis, who sought to bring their armaments manufacturing underground due to intense Allied bombing. The subhuman conditions and treatment of prisoners caused Vaihingen Concentration Camp to have one of the highest mortality rates of all of the Nazis concentration camps.In the beginning, only Jews lived in this Nazis concentration camp, yet later on, French and German prisoners were sent there as well. Towards the end of the war, the Vaihingen Concentration Camp was where sick and dying people were sent. However, despite all of these afflictions that the Jews of the Vaihingen Concentration Camp suffered,they still managed to celebrate the Passover Seder.
They were determined to preserve the traditions of their ancestors, despite the fact that doing so was risky business in a Nazis concentration camp. One camp resident, Moshe Perl, whose testimony is preserved in Inferno and Vengeance, asserted: "The people in the camp were already used to their miserable situation. They saw death before their eyes. But they were not willing to eat chametz on Passover." Yet he asked, "Where could be get flour and potatoes and how could we bake matzah?"
Perl managed to find an innovative solution, however. Perl asserted, "Shortly before Passover, one of the SS men in the camp entered my workshop, where I painted signs. He asked me to make dummy targets for target practice. Just then, an idea flashed through my mind-I could suggest making big targets with wooden frames and covering them with paper bags, which were available in abundance in the camp storehouse. I claimed that I would need flour, lots of flour, to paste the pictures of soldiers on the targets. He asked how much flour. I said I would need five kilograms. He liked my suggestion and immediately gave me an appropriate referral."
The Jews of the Vaihingen Concentration went to work baking the matza in secret, even though they knew that they would die if they were caught.Perl proclaimed, "Throughout the camp, we organized wooden beams. We found a wheel among my work tools with which to perform the matza and our matza-baking entered into high gear. We collected glass bottles, washed them well, cleaned the upside down table with the fragments and kneaded the dough. We baked the matza in the oven in my work room, keeping the door and windows hermetically sealed. Our problem was how to hide the matza we managed to bate at such great risk. We found a solution to the problem. We hid it under the shingles of our workshop roof."
When the night of the Seder came, twenty Jews who lived in the Vaihingen Concentration Camp managed to pull off a Seder, where aside from the matza they ate potatoes and drank homemade wine which consisted of water and sugar. They even managed to read the Haggadah. Right before the Allied invasion, many of these prisoners were sent on a death march to the Dachau Concentration Camp. But for the prisoners who remained to see the Allied liberation, 92 of them would die soon afterwards due to the various illnesses that they suffered because of the atrocious humanitarian conditions within the camp. Yet, while the Nazis may have succeeded to destroy many Jewish lives within the Vaihingen Concentration Camp, they failed to destroy their Jewish souls and break their will to do the Passover Seder.
So while our observances will be curtailed this year, and they certainly will be different, the very fact of our renewing this age-old ritual will strengthen us for the challenges ahead.

Crisis Brings Out the Best in Us...


What the World Needs Now - for Virtual Orchestra
What the World Needs Now - for Virtual Orchestra

Some Recommended Reading
The very act of exercising the imagination from the depths of the despair and the fear that now prevail possesses a force of its own. The imagination can not only see doom, it can also sustain freedom of the mind. In paralyzing times like these, the imagination is like an anchor that we cast from the depths of despair into the future, which we then start to pull ourselves toward. The very ability to imagine a better situation means that we have not yet allowed the plague, and the dismay it causes, to nationalize our whole being. As such, it is possible to hope that perhaps, when the plague ends and the air will be filled with feelings of healing and recuperation and health, a different spirit will pervade humanity; a spirit of easefulness and of a new freshness. Perhaps people will begin to reveal, for example, engaging signs of innocence unspoiled by even an iota of cynicism. Perhaps softness will suddenly become, for a certain time, legal tender. Maybe we will understand that the murderous plague has given us an opportunity to slice from ourselves layers of fat, of swinish greed. Of thick, undiscriminating thought. Of abundance that became excess and has already begun to suffocate us. (And why in the world did we collect so many objects? Why did we heap up our lives until life itself was buried beneath mountains of objects that have no object?)

It may be that people will look at all manner of twisted handiwork of the society of abundance and excess and simply want to throw up. Perhaps they will suddenly be struck by the banal, naive awareness that it is absolutely terrible that there are people who are so rich and others who are so poor. That it is absolutely terrible that such a rich and sated world doesn't give every baby that's born an equal opportunity. For surely, we are all one infectious human fabric, as we are now discovering. Surely the good of every person is ultimately the good of us all. Surely the good of the planet on which we live is our good, it is our well-being and the clearness of our breathing, and the future of our children.

Time to Start Thinking About Passover

Info about our Zoom Seder will be going out to the congregation shortly.  

Here is the link for "A Different Night" Haggadah (abridged edition)  - this is the one we'll use at our TBE seder.

Here is the link for "A NIght to Remember"  (another excellent Haggadah)

Welcome to NJOP's new Passover Seder Web Series corresponding to the 15 steps of the seder. Featuring Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, Founder and Director of NJOP, these 15 short webisodes will walk you through the essential elements of the Haggadah in a fun, uplifting manner to help enhance the seder you are hosting or plan to attend. You will develop a keen understanding behind the rituals and customs underlying the text of the Haggadah and the seder experience.
A Prayer of Hope During this Pandemic
By Rabbi Naomi Levy, originally appeared on
We are frightened, God,
Worried for our loved ones,
Worried for our world.
Helpless and confused,
We turn to You
Seeking comfort, faith and hope.
Teach us God, to turn our panic into patience,
And our fear into acts of kindness and support.
Our strong must watch out for our weak,
Our young must take care of our old.
Help each one of us to do our part to halt the spread of this virus
Send strength and courage to the doctors and nurses
In the frontlines of this battle,
Fortify them with the full force of their healing powers.
Send wisdom and insight to the scientists
Working day and night across the world to discover healing treatments.
Bless their efforts, God.
Fill our leaders with the wisdom and the courage
To choose wisely and act quickly.
Help us, God, to see that we are one world,
One people
Who will rise above this pandemic together.
Send us health God,
Watch over us,
Grace us with Your love,
Bless us with Your healing light.
Hear us God,
Heal us God,
"Soul and Breath"
"נשמה ורוח"
Our God, the souls and breaths that you have placed within is are pure
You created them, You fashioned them, You breathed them into us and You preserve them within us,
And for each and every breath we must praise You,
As is written, "Every soul (neshamah) shall praise God,"
"Every breath (neshimah) shall praise God.
א-לוהינו, נשמות ונשימות שנתת בנו טהורות הן
אתה בראתן אתה יצרתן אתה נפחתן בנו ואתה משמרן בקרבינו,
ועל כל נשימה ונשימה חייבים אנחנו לקלס לך
כדכתיב ,כל הנשמה תהלל י-ה,[1] כל הנשימה תהלל י-ה[2].
Lord of souls and breaths,
We seek out Your face, and Your spirit to hover over the deep that has opened up
To breathe into us once again the breath of life
For we are in great travail - all who bear the breath of life
And we do not know what to do.
 אדון הנשמות והנשימות,
מבקשים אנו את פניך ואת רוּחַך לרחף על פני התהום שנפתח
להפיח בנו עוד נשמת חיים
כי בצרה גדולה אנחנו כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁמַת רוּחַ חַיִּים בְּאַפָּיו ובאפיה
ואנחנו לא נדע מה נעשה
Instill within all medical teams and world leaders a spirit of wisdom
To understand, to discern to learn, to teach and to do
A spirit of counsel and might to renew their strength.
And instill within all of us a spirit of knowledge to protect ourselves
And the fear of God to care for our fellow - the weary, the exhausted and infirm
And to honor our elders.
תן בכל צוותי הרפואה ומנהיגי תבל רוּחַ חָכְמָה
להבין ולהשכיל ללמוד וללמד ולעשות
ורוּחַ עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה להחליף את כוחם
ותן בנו רוּחַ דַּעַת לשמור על נפשותינווְיִרְאַת ה'[3] לטפל בזולת, בעיפים וביגעים ובנחשלים,
ולהדר פני זקנינו.
Bless us with a spirit of forbearance for we have not enough strength against this great multitude that comes against us.
And fulfill through us that which is written:
"Thus said God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them forth, Who spread forth the other and that which comes out of it, Who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk therein. I, the Lord have called you in righteousness and have taken hold of your hand and protected you..."
ברך אותנו עם ארך רוח כי אין בנו כח לפני ההמון הרב הזה הבא עלינו[4]
וקיים בנו מה שכתוב:
כֹּה-אָמַר הָאֵ-ל ה' בֹּורֵ֤א הַשָּׁמַיִם וְנֹוטֵיהֶם רֹקַע הָאָרֶץ וְצֶאֱצָאֶיהָ נֹתֵן נְשָׁמָה לָעָם עָלֶיהָ וְרוּחַ לַהֹלְכִים בָּהּ  אֲנִי ה' קְרָאתִיךָ בְצֶדֶק, וְאַחְזֵק בְּיָדֶךָ וְאֶצָּרְךָ ..."[5]

My ongoing prayers for health and blessing for us all through these difficult times,

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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