For the second year in a row, Chicago’s Jewish and Christian communities are preparing to celebrate Passover and Easter amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For some, that means coming together with friends and loved ones over Zoom after what’s been an isolating 12 months. For others, it will be a mix of online worship and in-person celebration.
“After a year in this, we’re finding that what most people are looking for is that rootedness and connection,” said Rabbi Seth Limmer of Sinai Chicago Congregation on the city’s Near North Side.
Limmer says last year, Sinai offered several different Passover Seders online for different age groups and families. This year, they’re sticking with one.
“It’s going to be a little bit more like a traditional Seder than last year’s because I think that we’re missing so much normalcy in our lives that any normalcy we can provide is what we’re hoping to do right now,” he said.
In Chicago’s Park Manor neighborhood on the city’s South Side, St. Columbanus Catholic Church is offering a hybrid option for parishioners this Holy Week and Easter.
Pastor Matthew O’Donnell says the church will be open at 20% capacity – and will also livestream services, as they’ve been doing for the past year.
“The Archdiocese has shared a lot of guidelines about safe practices for us, the parishes throughout the Archdiocese, in order to gather people again for Holy Week and Easter this year,” O’Donnell said. “That’s the big difference compared to last year. Last year, we didn’t have people, and no one was able to be here in person.”
There will, however, be some changes from how things are normally done.
“Ordinarily on Holy Thursday, we would be washing people’s feet, but we’re not going to be able to do that as part of our celebration this year,” he said. “I think it’s really just trying to welcome people back. Because there’s people who still haven’t come back to church, but want to be here for Easter, and making sure that we do it in the safest way possible.”
O’Donnell and Limmer say that there have been silver linings over the past year – especially the opportunity to connect with their congregations in new ways.
“Over this past year, we’ve seen our community really grow and thrive,” O’Donnell said. “The number of people who have participated in our Bible studies or different activities has gone up. We created a YouTube channel where we have videos that we post every week to keep people you know, spiritually connected and information.”
But they both are also eager to welcome their full congregations back in-person.
“For every person that says, well, it’s great, because I’ve got one kid who’s in Boston and one in California, and now we can all be at Seder together by Zoom, there’s someone else who lost their husband and whose kid lives in a different time zone … and they’re even more isolated than usual.” Limmer said. “There are some great stories out there about how people are coping, but there’s just still a lot of difficulty, too.”