From the Rabbi’s Desk

 From the Rabbi’s Desk April 2023

Rabbi Carla Freedman

For the first several years of my service here at Beth Israel, we followed tradition, holding services on the morning of the first and last days of Pesakh. This was
the congregation’s practice when I arrived, and I continued to follow it…happily.

Gradually, attendance at these services declined. Some of the “regulars”, alas, died, and they have not been replaced by newer members. Others have experienced changes in their health, which limits their ability to attend these services. And still others have stopped
attending, for reasons unknown to us. In any case, these services, which usually drew at least 30 people, most recently barely made a minyan.

Then came Covid-19. By mid-March 2020, our building was closed and we were just beginning our 18-month sojourn on Zoom. Our return to in-person services has been rocky, with a couple of set-backs because of Covid outbreaks, and with people comfortable watching Shabbat services from the convenience of their own homes.

At the same time as attendance declined on the first morning of Pesakh, we began to hold a seder on the second night of the festival. It is clear that we cannot hope to get people out for a service between the two sedarim (Hebrew for “seders”). That is especially true when, as it is this year, the sedarim occur on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and of course, we
have our Shabbat service as usual on Friday.

We also used to hold a service on the last day of Pesakh, which included a Yizkor service. Our tradition offers a Yizkor (memorial) service on the last day of the major festivals: Yom Kippur (which ends the Days of Awe); Sukkot; Pesakh; Shavuot [see Ask the Rabbi—page 6]. Of these, only the Yom Kippur service draws
a large crowd, but the others were reasonably supported…until Covid.

This year, the last day of Pesakh is Thursday, April 13th. Given that we struggle to make a minyan for our regular Shabbat morning services, it is hard to imagine that we will do so on a Thursday morning, when there are so many other things going on.

After much soul-searching, I brought this matter to your Board of Directors in March, and we decided to accept reality. So we are not going to offer services on
the first and last mornings of Pesakh this year; we will include a brief Yizkor service in the Shabbat service on Friday April 7th (again, see Ask the Rabbi on page 6).

I for one do not let go of these traditional practices with ease. But the reality is that we live in times very different from those in which many of them originated. And it behooves us to respond when customs and practices no longer serve their original purposes, and/
or they no longer serve the community’s needs.

If you have thoughts about this, I would like to hear from you. If you have other suggestions about how to handle this matter in years to come, again, I would like to hear from you.

I hope you have a sweet and joyful Pesakh


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