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Asking the Clergy: How can the faithful preserve traditions during pandemic?

Adnan Pasha of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Long

Adnan Pasha of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Long Island Chapter; the Rev. Kevin O'Hara of Lutheran Church of Our Savior; and Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Village Chabad (Stony Brook). Credit: Tanver Khawaja; Kevin O'Hara; Chanie Cohen

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting Long Island as Easter (April 12), Passover (April 8-16) and Ramadan (30 days beginning April 23) approach. This week’s clergy discuss how traditions can be preserved amid social upheaval.

The Rev. Kevin O’Hara

Pastor, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Patchogue

Our first Easter was wrapped in mystery, worry and death, yet God proclaimed life.

When we last celebrated in our church on March 15, we proclaimed life in the midst of death and hope even as our hearts were breaking. We vowed to celebrate Easter when we set foot back in the church building. Until then, the actual celebration of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday will look vastly different from that first Easter, anything but business as usual.

With an amazing council and lay leadership, we have pivoted to online worship through Zoom, streaming our worship services. And we are putting everything usually in a paper bulletin onto slides. The shame will be that we can’t offer a physical "sign of peace" (we’ll offer virtual hugs instead), Holy Communion as a sacrament (we will still be fasting until that great assembly) or passing the offering plate. But make no mistake, we will worship the triumphant, crucified and risen Lord on Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday and every Sunday whenever and however we gather. That’s who we are, building or no.

Adnan Pasha

President, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Long Island Chapter

Ramadan, the universal month of fasting in Islam, is one of the most important times for Muslims. It is a form of worshipping God and is one of the pillars of Islam. When observed properly within prescribed conditions, it is the best way to enhance one’s spirituality and develop a stronger bond with God Almighty.

During Ramadan, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on Long Island has a tradition of inviting members of the Baitul Huda Mosque in Amityville to collectively break fast on weekends. Together we listen to readings of the Quran, then we offer congregational prayers. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very likely, sadly, that we will have to postpone such events for the safety and security of people.

On a brighter note, nothing stops us from breaking fast, listening to the Quran and praying together in the same way at home. The true spirit of Ramadan is found in sacrificing some of your everyday needs, such as food and water, enhancing almsgiving and, most important, refraining from vain talk, quarrels and indulgence just for the sake of God and to attain his nearness. In other words, “Don’t Socialize — Spiritualize.”

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen

Village Chabad (Stony Brook)

Assuming the coronavirus situation persists — with people indoors, particularly older people and others at risk — this may be the toughest Passover for world Jewry in decades. It may be natural to think we should pass over “Passover.” After all, it’s hard to get food; we can’t invite guests; it will be a strain to get ready. The default setting during trying times is often to lose faith and the inclination to celebrate until better days.

But during trying times we most need religion; it gives us strength for the storm. We can’t afford to lose our faith now. It’s not despite the coronavirus crisis that we will celebrate Passover, but because of it that we need Passover more than ever.

Our sages explain that through the Seder, new energy of salvation and redemption come down to the world. Today, the world needs the greatest observance of the Seder to draw this energy to combat our enemy: COVID-19. We may not be able to see this foe, but we feel it. Let’s learn from this enemy we can’t see.

Just as one person can spread the virus and cause devastation, one person observing the Seder can spread positive energy. This year’s Passover will look different — our tables smaller and missing familiar faces — but it can be meaningful, intimate and even more memorable. A happy, healthy, kosher and Zissen Pesach (sweet Passover) to all.

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