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Passover in the age of coronavirus

The Northeast Ohio Jewish community is adapting holiday celebrations amid this time of social distancing.

As the Jewish community around the world and here in Northeast Ohio prepares for the first night of Passover, many are coming to terms with what will look like a very different celebration.

The eight-day holiday typically begins with a traditional Seder dinner. It's usually a time of gathering for extended families and friends, but this year, social distancing and stay-at-home orders have disrupted plans.

Erica and Geraldo Rivera are one of Cleveland's most recognizable Jewish families. They say they're counting their blessings as they prep for a much smaller Seder dinner this year.

"You know, think of all of the times over history that Jews have had to celebrate Passover in much more onerous and dangerous conditions than we are, we're lucky we’re home here in Shaker Heights," Geraldo said. "We're privileged and we understand how lucky we all are, to be together, the two of us and our 14-year old [daughter] Sol."

Some traditions will remain the same.

"I have brisket coming from Mr. Brisket today," Erica said. "Pandemic can't stop Mr. Brisket." 

The Riveras also say they're now planning to unite with family virtually this week, over Zoom.

"It brings me a lot of comfort that we have access to Zoom and FaceTime and you can call each other and still try to go through the Hagaddah [Passover prayer book] together," Erica said. "We'll see what happens, but I know that we'll be able to touch base with everyone and and that will be really special and memorable."

RELATED: Geraldo, Erica Rivera talk Trump, love for Cleveland and a house divided

Rabbi Rosie Haim leads the event subscription service Celebrating Jewish Life, which normally hosts large catered dinners for major Jewish holidays. This year, they had to get creative.

"When it became clear that we were not going to be able to gather," Haim said. "At that point, I decided we really needed to go to a different plan..

"Basically we're going to have cars drive by our house, we're going to put the meal directly into their trunk so that there's no one that needs to touch it...and then at 6:15 p.m. we'll all join together on a virtual Zoom kind of program and have the Seder."

But for the Orthodox Jewish community, it's not that simple: Rabbi Alan Joseph of Bikkur Cholim in Cleveland, an organization that offers help during times of medical crisis, explained that during Shabbos (or the Sabbath) and on holidays like Pesach (Passover), technology is not used.

"Technology is off limits on any given holiday," he said. "So yeah, it's going be challenging because we're going to be on our own and isolated." 

Joseph told 3News the stay-at-home orders have impacted the Orthodox community greatly.

"[It] changes our whole lifestyle," he lamented. "A lot of day is spent in Shul, we go through the synagogue three times a day...It's sort of the fabric of who we are that were a community, so it's definitely very challenging -particularly over the holiday.

"As much as we would like to get together and lots of good reasons, life is the most important thing, and we'll do whatever it takes to save another life."

To help drive that message home, Joseph helped produce a special video with Steven Hacker Films, featuring local rabbis and doctors.

No matter how it will be celebrated this year, here in Northeast Ohio lessons from the Passover story remain strong.

"We are going to be connecting to our past in this historical meal that follows a certain pattern from slavery to freedom, and I think that the nice thing about it is that it also gives us a path to the future reminds us of what's important in our lives," Haim said.

"I was just looking at the lawn and hearing the birds chirping and spring has come. It's a time of...rebirth," Geraldo Rivera told us. "The Easter holiday is resurrection, it's the same thing, it's choosing life over death, so I think it has a special poignancy during this time of epidemic and plague and death. We reaffirm life, we reaffirm family, that we're all together to recognize the holiday, yes, but also the greater yambition we have for humanity to get through this."

"And we sing 'dayenu'—it is enough," added Erica.

LIST: Northeast Ohio churches, places of worship that are providing online worship during coronavirus pandemic

RELATED: Catholic Diocese of Cleveland: How you can participate in Holy Week liturgies virtually

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