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Virtual Seder, live-streamed mass: How coronavirus is forcing religious communities to adapt

How these Canadians are celebrating Easter, Passover virtually
WATCH: How these Canadians are celebrating Easter, Passover virtually

Nadia Ali has big plans this weekend — even though she won’t be leaving the house.

Toronto-based Ali, who works in PR, has planned a weekend of Easter activities which include cooking meals of lobster and lamb chops, putting on fancy clothes and listening to a selection of records.

READ MORE: How Canadians are praying during the coronavirus pandemic

Because Ali and her partner can’t spend Easter the way they normally would due to the coronavirus outbreak, they will be relying on technology — a lot.

They plan to livestream an Easter mass on Sunday, and FaceTime their family members in the Greater Toronto Area and Trinidad over the weekend.

“In this period of isolation, there is something comforting about experiencing something uplifting collectively with other people,” Ali said.

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Nadia Ali and her partner.
Nadia Ali and her partner. Courtesy of Nadia Ali

Moving services online

As places of worship have temporarily closed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus and physical distancing orders have forced people indoors, religious Canadians have had to find creative ways to celebrate April holidays such as Easter and Passover.

On Thursday, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam urged against religious gatherings this weekend and encouraged Canadians to have virtual meetups instead.

For Toronto-based Rabbi Yossi Sapirman of the Beth Torah Congregation, this means turning to livestreams to connect with his community.

The production van parked outside Rabbi Yossi Sapirman’s home
The production van parked outside Rabbi Yossi Sapirman’s home. Courtesy of Rabbi Yossi Sapirman

The rabbi broadcast the Seder ceremony via YouTube on Wednesday, and will be live streaming other Passover services, too. It’s not the first time he’s used video to connect with members of his congregation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made him get more creative.

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He has a production van parked outside his house and wires running through his home. His cameraman gave him the equipment and a set of instructions for the set up, and the rest was up to the rabbi.

“I’m experimenting with different things to make it more and more intimate and more like home,” Sapirman said.

“In terms of the camera shot, you don’t want to be too wide — you want to be close — and you don’t want to have too much off-screen time.”

READ MORE: British Columbians turn to faith in face of coronavirus pandemic

In Italy, the Vatican is live-streaming its Holy Week services on YouTube, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday, from St. Peter’s Basilica.

Some clergy across Canada began moving services online in March after governments began restricting large gatherings.

Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga was already digitally streaming Friday prayers from the mosque before the pandemic hit, and Imam Hamid Slimi told the Canadian Press he anticipates hundreds of people will now join the livestreams.

Sapirman said that his YouTube streams allow all members of his community — both young and older — to connect. While some Jewish congregations do not typically allow technology during Seders, Sapirman said in his congregation, the unique situation calls for connectedness.

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Multiple faiths change worship practices during COVID-19 pandemic
Multiple faiths change worship practices during COVID-19 pandemic

“I’m getting a lot of feedback from people telling me how important this is,” he said.

“By creating this moment, they really feel connected and they speak to that by saying, ‘I was so lonely, I was afraid… and even though I’m home and I can’t go out, I still feel like I am out there with you, with my friends and with my community.”

Importance of families

Connecting with loved ones is central for many celebrating the holidays this weekend. Not being able to see close family members is an adjustment.

READ MORE: Calgary Easter tradition cancelled because of COVID-19 pandemic

Victoria Christie, a writer from Ottawa, would always go to her aunt’s home in Toronto for Passover. Spending time assisting her in the kitchen is one of Christie’s favourite parts of the holiday.

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The Seder table at Victoria Christie’s home
The Seder table at Victoria Christie’s home. Courtesy of Victoria Christie

“She is an incredible chef, so she would make her own charoset (a delicious walnut, cinnamon and apple paste that represents the mortar the Jewish people used to build the Egyptian pharaoh’s buildings), latkes and chocolate and caramel matzah bark,” Christie said.

This year, Christie won’t be able to taste her aunt’s home cooking, but she and her parents celebrated Seder with her aunt virtually.

“For me, as much as the food is a big part of Passover, [Seder] reminded me that it’s not everything,” she said.
Coronavirus: Business working to keep people connected
Coronavirus: Business working to keep people connected

“Being with family both in-person and virtually, reading the haggadah (the Jewish book of Passover) and laughing hysterically over the fact our FaceTime kept freezing, is what matters the most.”

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Just like Christie, Ali and her partner’s families will also be part of their Easter celebrations, even though they can’t see them in person.

“Given the amount of people we’ll be calling this weekend, it’s safe to say we’ll be breaking up those calls over the course of four days,” she said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca