The Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown on Saturday. The week-long Jewish observance is a time to gather and remember family traditions, something many were unable to do in 2020 as Passover fell shortly after the coronavirus shutdowns.
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati says many people were forced to celebrate on their own or with just their immediate family members last year, and many had to learn to prepare the seder meal themselves or find substitutes for some traditional items. At the start of the pandemic, visiting multiple stores wasn't considered a great idea and already scarce items became increasingly hard to find.
With the COVID-19 vaccine reaching many people, some Jewish families are preparing for a return to at least one bit of normalcy in 2021.
Tracy Juran and her family marked Passover last year in a now familiar way: video chatting over Zoom. That won't be the case this year, and she's excited.
"This year we're going to have a large seder with our extended family on my husband's side, outside in a pavilion," she says, noting the place they're gathering can hold groups of more than 150. "We're going to be able to spread out by family or pod, and we're going to have a brunch potluck during the day so it's not super cold."
Juran says the "vast majority" of her family will be fully vaccinated by the Passover seder gathering. They'll have room to keep social distance and follow COVID safety precautions, but still be physically together.
The Zoom seder was fine, she says, but it felt disconnected and it was hard to coordinate the various rituals. There's an emphasis on being physically together during the Passover seder because each family member is supposed to play a part in recounting the story of the Jewish exodus from Egyptian slavery.
"It has a significant emphasis on generational tradition," she says. "We re-tell the story of our ancestors but everyone takes an active role in that re-telling. From the smallest person who is tasked with asking all the questions like 'Why do we do this on Passover?' 'What do these rituals mean?' to the matriarchs or patriarchs of the family leading the seder ... It's really important that you have that engagement from everyone and that's why there's such an emphasis on actually being physically together."
In 2020, the refrain became "Next year in person."
Those phrases carry even more meaning for Juran as she looks at the world around her.
"We have an obligation to retell the story of Passover now more than ever because there's so many marginalized groups of people in the world," she explains. "We have an obligation to remember them as we're recounting our own stories, and talk and discuss about how we can support those other communities as other people have supported us, and as we've been able to kind of rise above antisemitism and slavery and things like that.
"... I think as Jews," she continues, "one of the things we maybe realize more than other religious groups is that history has a tendency to repeat itself and we have an obligation not to let that happen."