Mother’s Day: Shower Mom with love in another unusual year

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

SUNDAY, MAY 9: Show some appreciation for Mom, Grandma and any maternal figure in your life today on this, the second Sunday of May—it’s Mother’s Day!

Families may be gathering outdoors and wearing masks, opting for a small in-person gathering or even continuing to use videoconferencing, but that doesn’t mean that Mom shouldn’t feel special today. So show her some love!

MOTHER’S DAY: 2021

Whether or not you plan to see Mom in-person today, sending her a homemade card or handwritten letter is, ironically, just the type of sentiment that the original Mother’s Day founder intended when she advocated the holiday. Anna Jarvis hoped that mothers could be shown appreciation through heartfelt, personal sentiments, rather than commercial goods.

Check out these resources for more meaningful ideas on how to celebrate:

For tips on a meaningful videoconference with Mom—and more—check out this article from Woman’s Day. More tips for a distanced Mother’s Day, from party planners, are at MarthaStewart.com.

Looking for DIY gift ideas? Craft something for Mom yourself (get ideas from Good Housekeeping, or for kids, check out ideas from Woman’s Day).

Many churches will be streaming Mother’s Day services and Mass today, but if your church doesn’t, check out Catholic TV and Christian World Media for listings of virtual services.

carnations Mother's Day

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

ANNA JARVIS: CARNATIONS AND A SERVICE

Although motherhood has been celebrated for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day—the one we all know today—began in 1908 with Anna Jarvis. Determined to bring awareness to the vital role of each mother in her family, Jarvis began campaigning for a “Mother’s Day,” and finally was successful in reaching the whole country in 1914. Jarvis’s concept differed considerably from corporate interests in the holiday, however, and the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day was irritating to Jarvis as early as the 1920s. This year, in honor of the Mother’s Day centennial, honor Mom the way Jarvis intended: with a hand-written letter, a visit, a homemade gift or a meal, cooked from scratch.

Though American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, Jarvis’s campaigns were the first to make it beyond the local level. The first “official” Mother’s Day service was actually a memorial ceremony, held at Jarvis’s church, in 1908; the 500 carnations given out at that first celebration have given way to the widespread custom of distributing carnations to mothers on this day. For Anna, the floral choice was easy: Carnations were her mother’s favorite flowers.

CELEBRATING MOM: A GLOBAL HISTORY

While the modern observance of Mother’s Day began just a century ago, celebrations for women and mothers have been common throughout history. Christians have observed Mothering Sunday for centuries, while Hindus have honored “Mata Tirtha Aunshi,” or “Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight.” The first American attempts for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” arose in the 1870s, when Julia Ward Howe called on mothers to support disarmament in the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Several decades later, Anna Jarvis created a holiday that became the Mother’s Day we know today.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, though, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable: Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar—mainly because it is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls. Yet it is with Mom in mind that Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers annually for Mother’s Day; $1.53 billion on gifts; and $68 million on greeting cards. We love you, Mom!

DIY, FOOD & MORE

Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart (for gift ideas, too!) and AllRecipes.

Care to care more? The Mother’s Day Movement supports women and girls in the developing world, with the belief that empowered women strongly impact the lives of their children and their communities. Help these women by donating your portion of the $14 billion spent annually on Mother’s Day.

Celebrating Easter again with Eastern Christians who welcome the Holy Fire in Jerusalem

Spreading the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (This image was shared globally via Wikimedia Commons.)

LEARNING ABOUT ANCIENT CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES

A nearly 2,000-year-old tradition

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here at ReadTheSpirit magazine, our goal week after week is to cover global religious and cultural diversity—including diversity within Christianity. Nearly 300 million Christians follow Eastern Orthodox traditions with their own liturgical calendars and customs. That includes the dazzling ritual of the “Holy Fire” emerging from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a flame that kindles countless other lamps that are carried far and wide as a symbol of Easter hope. Because ancient calendars vary, many Eastern Orthodox churches around the world did not mark Easter until May 2, which meant that the ritual of the Holy Fire occurred on May 1. Sharing this story with is us Kevin Vollrath. You can find his earlier story on Orthodox Great Lent right here.

Waiting for the Holy Flame with Abuna Awad in Aboud

By KEVIN VOLLRATH
Contributing Columnist

Many pilgrims travel to the Holy Land during Lent to observe the Orthodox Easter liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Easter 2020 was a sad occasion, due to the pandemic. No pilgrims were allowed to attend this beautiful service, which was conducted by a handful of religious leaders. This year, according to both Reuters and Associated Press, hundreds of pilgrims who could show that they had been fully vaccinated were allowed to crowd into the ancient church, once again, starting with the Saturday service of the Holy Fire.

During this service, Christians crowd around the little stone enclosure in the center of the vast church, marking the spot tradition says Jesus was buried. The service begins in deep shadow, then lights emerge from the little stone enclosure—and then quickly spread across other candles and lamps until the entire interior of the church glows with their collective blaze.

Some call this the Miracle of the Holy Fire. Even Orthodox leaders have debated over the years whether this annual emergence of light can be called a true “miracle,” but the custom has been reported since the first centuries of Christianity and the inspiration of the event feels miraculous to pilgrims. The spiritual effect of the spreading flames is one of the most stirring visual manifestations of the faith—especially as those lights spread outside the church’s doors, across the Old City of Jerusalem and eventually around the world. Special flights are arranged each year to carry the flame from Jerusalem to Greece and other main centers of Orthodoxy.

The eager anticipation of these flames is just as intense in Palestinian Christian churches spread across Israel and Palestine.

Meet Father (or in Arabic, Abuna) Emmanuel Awad, an Orthodox priest in a village called Aboud, about 11 miles northwest of Ramallah and 18 miles north of Jerusalem. The name “Aboud” comes from the word origin meaning “to worship.” People from the small village tell the story of how it ws named after the biblical prophet Obadiah.

Abuna Emmanuel grew up in Innareek, another village outside of Ramallah in the West Bank. After studying to be an electrical engineer, he returned to the Orthodox Church in 1999 and quickly became a deacon. He married, was ordained and has two sons and a daughter. He has been serving as the local priest of The Dormition of the Theotokos Church since 2010. The church is one of the oldest in the Holy Land having been commissioned by Helena, the mother of Constantine in 332CE.

Abuna Emmanuel says that the essence of being a Christian is loving everyone and opposing hate always. Even though he’s ordained in the Orthodox church, and even has a PhD in Orthodox Studies, he professes not caring about denominational divisions: “We’re all just Christian, witnessing for Jesus Christ.”

For Abuna Emmanuel, Orthodox Easter liturgy captures the heart of the Christian gospel, enabling us to better love ourselves, fellow believers, the world and God.

One cannot understand the Easter liturgy, though, apart from its Lenten context. Easter liturgy is the culmination of three parts: first, preparation before Lent, including a gradual start to fasting (you can read more here). The second part is Great Lent, which runs for 40 days from Clean Monday to the sixth subsequent Friday, the day before Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, is the third part.

One way to determine the time during Holy Weekend in an Orthodox church is to look for the Epitaphios, an icon often made of cloth that depicts Jesus’ preparations for burial. During the Gospel reading of evening prayers on Good Friday, the priest and deacon move the Epitaphios to the Holy Table. At the end of the service, the Epitaphios is brought to the center of the church, where it remains available to be visited by the faithful until Holy Saturday Matins, often observed late in the evening of Good Friday. Priests and deacons then hold a somber procession with the Epitaphios outside the church, with bell tolling and funeral singing.

Over the long services concluding Holy Week, Abuna Emmanuel says “we feel Jesus Christ’s suffering and his tiredness and his cross. We also feel Jesus’ pleasure that comes from resurrection, commemorated by the light that emerges from Jesus’ resting place.”

When Abuna Emmanuel’s church received its flame from Jerusalem on the evening of Holy Saturday, the faithful processed around the church building, remembering their baptism just as they did at the beginning of Lent, moving from death and darkness to light and life, singing: “The angels in heaven, O Christ our Savior, sing of Thy resurrection. Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.”

Before re-entering the church, Jesus’ resurrection was announced and the faithful entered singing of Christ’s victory and the joy of resurrection. Inside the church, the faithful observed a liturgy full of song and readings from throughout the Old and New Testaments.

In Abuna, the service often lasts about 3 hours, until 1 a.m. These liturgies can be even longer in other parts of the Orthodox world.

Unlike many Western churches, fasting ends Saturday evening with light foods: cheese, ham, mini-sandwiches, chocolates, hand-prepared wine. Maamoul cookies are one traditional favorite,  sometimes stuffed with date paste and other times arranged in the shape of a crown.

Traditionally, Sunday morning services are much shorter and most of the faithful already have gathered the night before, so the Sunday congregation usually is small. The prayers last about a half hour and focus on gratitude to God for Jesus’ resurrection and the grace it brings. After service, Palestinian believers generally celebrate at their homes with their families, often dining on lamb if it is available. Orthodox Christians believe Jesus’ sacrificial death fulfilled Passover requirements for a lamb sacrifice.

Instead of the usual daily mass, the week following Easter has no masses until the following Sunday, celebrating the eight days as though they are one day (known as Bright Week). The lack of fasting also indicates the joy of resurrection. The following Sunday, known as Thomas Sunday, commemorates Jesus’s arrival at the disciples’ house.

Care to share a prayer?

Here is a prayer Abuna Emmanuel shared with his people as they moved from Easter into Bright Week:

Beautiful God, we thank you for the many creative liturgies with which you have blessed the Church. We ask that our celebration, in whatever tradition we find ourselves, would bless you. Bless this church and the whole Orthodox church. Dwell with us as we feast this Easter season! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Care to see more?

Abuna Emmanuel works with Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and, in this video, he talks about his church and what it’s like to be a Christian in Palestine.

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KEVIN VOLLRATH is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion & Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, writing in this series as the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). He lives in Lambertville, NJ, while he waits to begin his fieldwork for his dissertation in Bethlehem once travel resumes.

Rama Navami: Hindus celebrate Lord Rama, Ramayana, righteousness

A devotee observes Rama Navami. Photo by Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission Belur Math, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21: The story of Lord Rama has been read, recited, and reviewed by Hindus worldwide, during a period known as Ramayana Week—all leading up to today’s climactic festival, Ram Navami. (Spellings vary; Ramanavami and Ramnavami are also common spellings.)

NEWS 2021: Though some celebrations have been cancelled due to the continuing pandemic—such as the festivities detailed in this article, from Telegraph India—many Hindus will be marking the day at home or within safety guidelines.

RAMA: THE SUN, FASTING AND A WEDDING

Celebrated as the birth of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, Ram Navami recalls the righteous, peaceful and presperous reign of the ancient kingdom under Sri Rama. The epic Ramayana, read during Ramayana Week, tells the exciting and thrilling adventures of Rama and the widespread anticipation of the long-awaited heir of King Dasharath of Ayodhya. Many Hindus believe that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul.

Did you know? According to studies, the birth of Rama may have been in January of 4114 BCE.

Legend has it that Rama was born at noon: Rama’s dynasty has been linked with the sun, and at noon, the sun is at its brightest. At home, Hindus set pictures of Lord Rama, his wife (Sita), Hanuman and Lakshman in places of importance; puja is performed with joy. It is common to fast from onions, wheat products and several other foods on Ramanavami, and community meals free of these foods share the gaiety of the festival. In temples, fruits and flowers, Vedic chants and mantras are offered to Sri Rama. In South India, the wedding of Rama and Sita is ceremonially recognized, while in parts of North India, chariot processions attract thousands of visitors. (This year, due to pandemic guidelines, some festivities will be withheld or altered.)

Did you know? Gandhi said that Ramrajya, the peaceful reign of Lord Rama, would be the ideal state of India following independence.

AN ALTERNATE BIRTHDAY: SWAMINARAYAN JAYANTI

While the majority of India is celebrating Sri Rama, many Hindus also recall the birthday of the founder of the Swaminarayan tradition within Hinduism. In stark contrast to the millennia-old commemorations of most Hindu deities, this jayanti marks the birth of an 18th-century figure who lived into the 19th century. Lord Swaminarayan was born in North India and traveled across the country as a social and moral reformer. Today, his devotees sing, fast and offer food at temples, with a late culmination at 10:10 p.m.—the documented time of his birth.

Ridvan: Baha’is observe ‘most great festival’ for 12 days

Baha'i temple U.S. Ridvan

The Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by Shutter Runner, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET MONDAY, APRIL 19 through SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 1: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan. Named “Ridvan” for “paradise,” this sacred festival commemorates Baha’u’llah’s time in the Najibiyyih Garden—after he was exiled by the Ottoman Empire—and the first announcement of his prophethood. For Baha’is, Ridvan is the “King of Festivals,” and the first, ninth and 12th days are occasions for work and school to be suspended.

RIDVAN: BAHA’U’LLAH IN THE GARDEN

The story of Ridvan actually begins years before Baha’u’llah revealed his identity and took up temporary residence in the Najibiyyih Garden, with a man who called himself “the Bab” (translated, the Gate). The year was 1844 CE when Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, of Shiraz, made the proclamation that he was the Bab—and that a Messianic figure was coming. Nine years later, the man known as Baha’u’llah experienced a revelation while imprisoned in Tehran, Iran: he was the Promised One foretold of by the Bab.

After release from prison, Baha’u’llah settled in Baghdad, which was becoming the center of the Babi (followers of the Bab) movement. Though he made no open claims related to his revelation, Baha’u’llah slowly began attracting more and more Babi followers. The growing Babi community, along with Baha’u’llah’s increasing popularity, caused the government to exile Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to Constantinople. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library Online.) After having packed his things, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih garden to both receive visitors and allow his family sufficient time to pack for the journey.

Precisely 31 days after Naw-Ruz, on April 22, 1863, Baha’u’llah moved to a garden across the Tigris River from Baghdad with his sons, secretary and a few others. In the Najibiyyih Garden, Baha’u’llah announced his prophetic mission to a small group of close friends and family. In addition, Baha’ullah made three announcements: that religious war was not permissible; that there would not be another Manifestation of God for 1,000 years; and that all the names of God are fully manifest in all things. For 11 days, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih Garden. On the ninth day, the rest of his family joined him; on the 12th day, the entire group departed for Constantinople.

THE ‘MOST GREAT FESTIVAL’

During Ridvan, those of the Baha’i community gather, pray and hold celebrations.

Local Spiritual Assemblies—that is, the governing bodies of Baha’i communities worldwide—are elected on the first day of Ridvan.

NEWS: SHRINE OF ABDU’L-BAHA UNDERWAY

Construction of the Shrine of Abdu’l-Baha in Akka, Israel, has been underway since January 2020, and it was recently announced that the concrete floor slab was poured for the main edifice and the surrounding plaza. The floor of the central area is among the first elements of the project to reach its final form. Baha’i.org has the story, along with archives of construction milestones.

 

Ramadan: Muslims prepare for the second fasting month of the pandemic

Mosque at night with people, lit up

REMEMBERING THE VAST CROWDS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC. Muslims around the world recall the inspiring community-wide gatherings each night of a typical Ramadan. Here’s a pre-pandemic example from a mosque in Tunisia. Instead, for a second year, social distancing will mean smaller public programs and more of a focus on individual and family gatherings. (Photo by Zied Nsir, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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SUNSET MONDAY, APRIL 12: The world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan as a crescent moon appears and is spotted around the globe. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation.)

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the fasting month “moves earlier” each year in relation to standard calendars. Last year, in 2020, Ramadan began at sunset on April 23, not long after social distancing rules were circling the planet. Even though millions have been vaccinated, now, they still represent only a small portion of the world’s population.

By tradition, Ramadan begins with a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 1-2 days after the astronomical new moon. The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and is a time of great feasting and family celebrations.

RAMADAN AND THE PANDEMIC

Empty mosque Ramadan

Many mosques are expected to remain empty (or near-empty) of worshipers through Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

All three Abrahamic faiths—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—are learning to adapt to pandemic distancing. Already in 2021, Jews now have marked their second annual Passover and Western Christians (Catholics and Protestants) have celebrated their second Easter under the threat of COVID-19. Eastern Orthodox Christians will mark their second pandemic-era Easter later in April.

Now, Muslims are approaching their second Ramadan under restrictions. So far, Muslim communities are encouraged that the 2020 limitations on Ramadan allowed families to pass through a reasonably safe observance of the holy month.

A report in Al Jazeera summarizes research from the UK in the Journal of Global Health that suggests observant families adapted successfully last year. The Al Jazeera report says, in part: “The British study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Global Health, said there was no evidence to suggest that British Muslims who observed the holy month were more likely to die from a coronavirus infection. ‘Our findings suggest that the practices associated with Ramadan did not have detrimental effects on COVID-19 deaths,’ the report said.”

Most importantly for Muslim families in 2021 is news from Islamic authorities in many parts of the world that receiving a vaccination does not violate the strict fasting rules. A story in The New York Times focused especially on Muslim groups in the U.S. The Times report said, in part: “The executive director of the Islamic Society of North America, Basharat Saleem, said that numerous scholars of Islamic law had been consulted on the matter. ‘The answer is no,’ he said. ‘It does not break the fast.’ ”

To connect with Muslims in their homes, many mosques and organizations have set up online webinars, video conferences, live streaming and more. In some parts of the Middle East, the athaan—call to prayer—that is amplified from mosques will, this year, be altered to include the phrase “pray in your homes” instead of “come to pray.”

FASTING & DATES

Dates in hand, Ramadan

It is tradition to break the Ramadan fast with dates. Photo by Marco Verch, courtesy of Flickr

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, prayer is increased, as is reading from the Quran.

According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset—with the iftar. Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, prior to the iftar.

 

 

BEYOND FASTING …

 

Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.

 

ZAKAT GIVING & ‘NIGHT OF POWER’

In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice. This year, experts are anticipating that a majority of zakat will take place online.

Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Easter: Christians revel in Jesus’ resurrection, amid continuing pandemic guidelines

Crucifix on cliff, sunshine, Easter

Photo courtesy of Piqsels

SUNDAY, APRIL 4: Western Christians across the globe revel in the Resurrection of Jesus today, rejoicing in the promise of new life: It’s Easter! Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and bridging into the Easter Triduum—the evening of Maundy Thursday through the evening of Easter Sunday—Christians celebrate a new day. (Note: Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Pascha, the Orthodox term for Easter, on May 2, this year.)

The New Testament tells Christians that the Resurrection of Christ is the core of their faith, and on this grand day, bells are rung in praise and adherents joyously profess their faith.

A simple Easter: Virtual services for Easter will continue this year, although many churches will also be offering outdoor services from their parking lot. Photo by noratheone, courtesy of Flickr

EASTER IN 2021: VIRTUAL VS. IN-PERSON

Amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic and the widespread practice of social distancing, Easter Sunday will be different for families across the globe. Most families will have the option of streaming masses and services again this year—or, as many churches have begun holding “parking lot” services, gathering outdoors in a socially-distant environment.

Looking to access virtual Easter masses? Many churches will be hosting their own virtual Easter masses, but services are also available for streaming at Catholic TV and Christian World Media. To watch services from the Vatican, follow the YouTube channel Vatican News.

Family gatherings may be permitted, depending on the size of the gathering and who has been fully vaccinated, according to reports. However, as detailed in this article from ABC News, restriction guidelines are still being developed.

A TOMB AT SUNRISE

Gospel accounts say that early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene (and, though accounts vary, other women as well) traveled to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. Upon reaching the tomb, an earthquake shook the ground; the stone was moved from the tomb, and a holy messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Though no specific moment of Resurrection is recorded, Mary Magdalene’s encounter has, since the 2nd century, been celebrated as Easter. The Resurrection is described as having occurred c. 30 CE.

For Christians today, meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also would typically feature lamb—a symbol of Christ, the Paschal Lamb. However, Easter hams now far outpace cuts of lamb.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it.

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.

White rabbit, egg holder, candies, Easter

Photo courtesy of Pixnio

SECULAR EASTER: A BUNNY, EGGS & MORE

Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection. Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families.

EGGS: The springtime egg has symbolized the season’s new life since before the life of Jesus, drawing back to ancient civilizations. Nonetheless, the egg holds a place of prominence in many secular Easter traditions. Children around the globe search for hidden eggs, and decorating eggs can range from simple to elaborate—as much as the artist allows. International chocolatiers mold sweet concoctions in the shape of delicate eggs, with the most exquisite replications selling for hundreds of dollars.

RECIPES & RESOURCES

Looking for a great recipe or ideas to spruce up your Easter table?

Find delicious recipes, from appetizers to brunch to dessert, at Food Network and AllRecipes.

Give eggs extra style, or try an Easter craft, with ideas from HGTV and Martha Stewart.

Kid-friendly Easter coloring pages, cards, games and more are at the UK’s Activity Village.

Passover: Virtual seders and gatherings create change in another year for Pesach

passover meal

Photo by ehpien, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, MARCH 27: Tonight, Jews begin the most widely observed of all Jewish traditions: the seven- or eight-day festival of Pesach, also known as Passover. (Jews in Israel observe seven days; Jews of the Diaspora observe eight). Passover commemorates the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, which is recalled during an elaborate meal that takes place on the first night of Passover, known as the seder. While the first night of Passover would typically involve gathering for an in-person seder, continuing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions will prevent most families and friends from gathering in-person this year.

Fortunately—as many news sources are pointing out, ahead of the holiday—there is hope! Many who had little to no knowledge of the concept of virtual gathering have, since last year, gained hours of experience on these platforms. In 2020, worldwide pandemic lockdowns were in their infancy as Jews faced a unique Passover; in 2021, many have learned the ins and outs of these get-togethers.

This year, experts recommend assigning Haggadah reading roles ahead of Passover; swapping recipes weeks in advance of the feast, so that meal participants can enjoy the same foods; and coordinating virtual cooking sessions ahead of Pesach, so that culinary endeavors can turn out successfully. (Read more tips from Forbes.) Going a step further, Jewish Exponent suggests cooking dishes that appear bright and vibrant on-camera (recipes are in the article), and pre-arranging foods that won’t require a host or hostess to continue leaving the table.

PASSOVER: ONE YEAR IN, OUR VIRTUAL GATHERINGS HAVE EVOLVED

Matzo. Photo by Rebecca Siegel, courtesy of Flickr

Each Passover, Jews around the world ask the same question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This year, that question will once again be answered in a rare manner, as social distancing restrictions continue. Yet in a positive light, this situation in some ways relates to the first Passover, as was written at Chabad.org: “On the very first Passover, in Ancient Egypt, each family was sequestered in its home. No one was permitted to step outside. Outdoors, a plague swept through the land, but in each Jewish home, there was light and hope.”

While stricter Jewish families may not participate in a virtual Passover seder, many Jews will be gathering in this way, this year.

While vaccinations are providing a sense of hope to many, most in-person gatherings are still discouraged. To prepare for a second Passover “in isolation,” Chabad.org offers a list of pro tips.

Freedom can still be celebrated at Passover in spite of the continuing pandemic, states an article in STL Jewish Light. For a commentary on the deeper meaning of freedom and Passover, check out the story here.

This year, Passover will begin just as Shabbat ends—leaving many in a difficult situation regarding Passover seder preparation. News sources such as Aish.com and Jewish Exponent are recommending preparing as much of the meal as possible ahead of time—with tips on how to do it.

For tips on creating a spring-inspired Passover table, plus access to free printable Passover conversation starters, check out these links: Passover table and conversation starters, from HGTV.com.

In memory of a man who, for more than 40 years, bought millions of dollars of New York’s leavened bread products before Passover—and passed away last month–the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a tribute article.

EGYPT, SLAVERY AND CHAMETZ

 

Among the events in the biblical story recalled during the seder, Jews give thanks to G_d for “passing over” the homes of those whose doors were marked with lamb’s blood during the biblical Plague of the Firstborn, for helping them to escape safely from Egypt’s army and for eventually leading them to freedom.

Haggadahs are available in a variety of commentary themes, such as this edition, which is commented on by Elie Wiesel. Photo by Edsel Little, courtesy of Flickr

Why is it so important to get rid of leavened products during this time? According to Exodus, as the Israelites left Egypt they moved so quickly that their bread was not able to rise. To this day, unleavened matzo bread is a staple element on seder tables and a symbol of this ancient festival.

As matzo is such an important element of Passover, many Jews are trying to revive the art of homemade matzo. Baking matzo is a challenge; only 18 minutes are allowed between the mixing of flour and water to the finishing of baking. Elaborate measures are taken to ensure the mixture does not rise.

FAST OF THE FIRSTBORN TO COUNTING OF THE OMER

During the day today, Jewish families may observe the Fast of the Firstborn. Tonight, after sunset, Passover will commence. As Passover begins, seders—ritualistic meals with readings, stories, songs and spirited discussion—are held in Jewish households everywhere.

Throughout the holiday period, and in more traditionally observant households, the dishes and baking tools used for the Passover seder are reserved only for this time and have never come into contact with chametz. The Passover seder is an extended meal that often lasts several hours, and is filled with ceremonial prayers, rituals, specific foods and drinks and careful table settings. During the seder, the story of the Exodus is recalled through readings from the Haggadah.

During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. On the second day of Passover, keeping track of the omer—an ancient unit of measure—marks the days from Passover to Shavuot.