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Passover begins tonight at sunset.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has caused much upheaval in the observance of the eight-day holiday and its traditions.

The ban on social gatherings and social isolation requirements imposed in New York and many other states to combat the virus means the cancellation of family and community celebrations of the special Passover meal, the Seder.

Temple Israel of Riverhead has canceled its community Seder. A host of families have decided to celebrate the Seder separately together online, using the meeting platform Zoom.

The Seder recounts the events leading up to the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, with a special liturgy called the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

In Hebrew the holiday is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because, according to the Book of Exodus, God passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn on the very first Passover eve.

The story of the Exodus teaches that God helped the children of Israel escape from their slavery in Egypt by inflicting 10 plagues upon the ancient Egyptians before the Pharaoh finally released his Israelite slaves. The 10th plague was the death of the Egyptian first-born.

The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-born in these homes.

When the Israelites were finally freed, they left in such a hurry they could not wait for bread dough to rise. Therefore to commemorate Passover, for the duration of the week-long holiday, no leavened bread is eaten. Passover is also known as the feast of unleavened bread.

See: the full Passover story from Chabad.org.

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