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Brooklyn rabbi leads the way with virtual Seder

April 13, 2020 Kathy Willens Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — For centuries, on the first and second nights of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the youngest child has asked his or her elders, “Why is this night different from all others?”

This year, the nights are truly different. And Rabbi Shlomo Segal is among the spiritual leaders who are adapting to a Passover in the shadow of COVID-19.

The 40-year-old self-described “liberal” Orthodox rabbi has brought his Seder to YouTube, so that Jews can mark the holiday traditionally, even without the tradition of family gatherings.

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Rabbi Shlomo Segal and his family waved to members of their congregation, friends and family during their virtual Seder on Wednesday. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

“We’ve never done virtual Seders here, but Passover is an important time. The virtual Seder was in the context of how we’re responding to the COVID-19 crisis. In times of crisis, people turn to faith,” said Segal, leader of the congregation Kehilat Moshe in Sheepshead Bay.

Said Segal’s wife, Adina: “Things are so tenuous now. We want to try to keep our ties with our community. People do need spiritual nourishment.”

Segal started conducting Friday evening Shabbat services via YouTube several weeks ago, when social distancing rules were put into place in New York.

Most Orthodox synagogues dismiss online Shabbat prayer because it is forbidden to use electronic devices on the sabbath; Segal finished his services before sunset, to abide by those rules. Some Orthodox authorities have said virtual Seders are acceptable, while others would forbid the practice.

Rabbi Shlomo Segal checked to see who had dialed in to his virtual Seder. Some 55 congregants, friends and family members joined Segal and his family via YouTube. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

Segal’s synagogue includes a range of congregants, from the very observant to those minimally so. To keep people engaged, including his own 8- and 12-year-old daughters, “I generally inject a lot of humor into my services while maintaining an essential dignity,” he said.


Online Seders are an invention born of necessity, Segal said.

“All I know is that when circumstances abruptly change … we need to adapt and serve effectively,” he said “We felt that this was a time that required flexibility. It’s tough times.”

Shira Segal, left, her younger sister Rayna, center, and their mother Adina wore masks representing three of the Plagues of Egypt during the Seder. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

 

Rayna Segal, 8, reacted to the taste of horseradish, a bitter herb, during her family’s virtual Seder. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

 

Rabbi Shlomo Segal held a copy of his Haggadah in front of his laptop computer to show steps of the Seder to participants. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

 

Shira Segal, 12, listened as her mother Adina read an Arabic passage transliterated from Hebrew. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

 

Rayna Segal, 8, reacted to the taste of horseradish, a bitter herb. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

 

Rabbi Shlomo Segal read from the Haggadah. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

 

Adina Segal, center, lifted a cup of wine. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

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