Social distancing in the age of coronavirus means improvisation, and members of the Harvard community are nothing if not creative. Over the past several weeks students, faculty, and staff have found innovative ways to mark some of the holiest days in the Jewish and Christian calendars remotely, including Passover seders and Holy Week services.
Harvard Divinity School
At Harvard Divinity School (HDS), two students have pulled together a virtual Passover seder set for Monday. The online meal will be open to anyone regardless of faith and will blend tradition with invention.
“We’re working on a Haggadah that can be shared virtually so that everyone will be able to go through it together, and within the Haggadah we’ve assigned specific parts to members of the Jewish Student Association, areas where they can share a quote, poem, or thought around that particular element of the seder,” Molly Silverstein wrote in an email, describing their approach to the Jewish text read during the ritual meal.
To keep the community feel, she and co-organizer Rachel Leiken will ask attendees to “read parts of the Haggadah aloud and share how they may be relating to the story and themes of Passover, such as moving from the narrowness of bondage to the spaciousness of freedom, all themes that are especially relevant right now,” wrote Silverstein.
Creative cuisine will be integral to the seder menu, as many will be limited in the kinds of food they may be able to buy, said the organizers, who also plan to have people break into traditional Jewish study pairs to discuss elements of the seder and show a film clip, possibly from “A Rugrats Passover,” “to break up the service and hopefully make things feel light and fun,” Silverstein said.
For the past several weeks Harvard Divinity School student Flora Tang, M.T.S. ’20, has been helping organize online daily and Sunday worship services. Coordinating the more involved liturgies in the lead-up to Easter has been a challenge. They weren’t able to incorporate a procession into the Palm Sunday service that marked the beginning of Holy Week and the end of Lent, but when it came to carrying palm branches to signify those placed in the path of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, they MacGyver-ed a solution.
“We invited everyone to bring a branch from outside, a flower, leaf, or houseplant, and we did a blessing over leaves and greenery via Zoom,” said Tang.
As the weeks have passed, Tang said she has been increasingly impressed with how creative her community has been in adapting to the new normal. She even wrote a 20-second prayer about coronavirus in keeping with the recommended length of time for hand-washing. Bonding over Zoom, she said, has helped people cope.
“Easter is a hard season this year because it’s a season of hope and joy, and it’s hard to see that when we’re in isolation,” said Tang “Celebrating doesn’t change the realities of this world,” she added, but it “makes me search harder for that hope and joy.”
As it has for the past several weeks, Memorial Church has been holding services while its doors remain closed. Instead of gathering in person, worshipers of any faith are encouraged to tune in to the weekly Sunday services at the church on WHRB at 95.3 FM or log in to the church’s Soundcloud account.
In keeping with the governor’s directive to stay put and guidance from the University, members of the church’s clergy and Music Department have been recording themselves at home from around Greater Boston and sending their digital clips to a church staff member who edits the pieces of the service together into a file that can be played on the Harvard station.
On Thursday, the church will offer a Maundy Thursday service through Zoom. The Good Friday service will be on the church’s Soundcloud account, and Easter Sunday service on April 12 at 11 a.m. will be broadcast on WHRB and made available on Soundcloud later in the week.