On the 15th day in lockdown in the UK, I began the 15th day of Nisan … what Passover has come to mean in the midst of a Pandemic
This upcoming holiday weekend is likely a sore spot for many. Usually, this weekend is a time for family gatherings or holiday travels (or both!), rather than a government mandate to remain home and practice social distancing. Personally, I was supposed to be off eating my weight in pasta in Lake Como this weekend… but Covid-19 had other plans.
Jokes and holiday angst aside, this week and weekend mark very important religious holidays for a large portion of the global population: Passover (for Judaism) and Easter (for Christianity). Beyond the significant religious aspect in their respective religions, these holidays represent an important (and often looked forward to) time to gather and reconnect with family and friends, close and extended.
As someone who culturally identifies as Jewish, Passover has always been a favourite holiday of mine, full of memories of mediocre singing, fighting over who gets to read from the Haggadah, trying to get a head start finding the afikomen, and too much Manischewitz wine — but always non-stop laughter, delicious food and family.
Unfortunately, these holidays will look dramatically different this year, as people are confined to their homes and told to isolate. So with Passover and Easter upon us (and Ramadan not far off), this week at Brand Genetics we wanted to touch on 3 remarkably resilient ways people are adapting their Passover (and Easter) rituals in light of Covid-19 lockdown and the key lessons we can glean.
Karpas, maror, beitzah and live streaming
While not all religious leaders are abiding by social distancing and lockdown guidelines, the vast majority are, setting up live streaming capabilities in places of worship to offer virtual services as well as pre-recorded prayers and devotions.
This is particularly interesting in the Jewish community, where Jewish law prohibits the use of electronics / electricity on Shabbat — but many congregations have been making exceptions due to the extreme circumstances, “an idea called pikuach nefesh” meaning “to save a life, put everything else aside.”
This has led to emergence of the ‘virtual seder’ and ‘digital Haggadah’, as Judaism suddenly goes all interactive. The Jewish Heritage Network (JHN), a non-profit digital agency connecting communities around the world, teamed up with Agora.io, a voice, video and live streaming platform, to launch Yahad.net, which means “together” in Hebrew. They will host virtual Passover rooms to help families and friends celebrate together from a distance.
Alternatively, for those less technologically inclined (like my 91-year-old Jewish grandmother), some people are holding seders over the phone, reading the prayers from the Haggadah and following along as they go.
Togetherness in a time of separation
To the above point on “pikuach nefesh”, many religious leaders and observers alike are recognising the extreme difficulties of our current situation and relaxing ‘rules’ or requirements for observance — taking some of the pressure off of themselves and their families so they can better focus on celebrating and connecting to the deeper purpose of the holiday.
They are getting back to the roots of what their religion teaches and these holidays represent in terms of love, social responsibility, and self-reflection as reassurance and motivation in these strange circumstances — and demonstrating the empathy they have for each other in doing so.
Brands are beginning to follow this lead and are once again looking to leverage their scale and supply capabilities to ensure normality for those most in need. This year, Uber Eats have partnered with The Met Council for Jewish Poverty to deliver kosher-for-Passover food to Holocaust survivors in New York City who are staying home amid fears of contracting the virus. Similarly, Deliveroo has partnered with Jewish charity Chabad Lubavitch UK to offer much needed ‘Seder-to-go’ kits for those struggling to get Passover Provisions.
Making (new) memories and setting aside our (new) reality
Many people are helping combat their disappointment and frustration with the current situation by looking for ways to indulge in old traditions as well as create new ones.
For those celebrating Easter, this may mean ordering a chocolate-fuelled Easter Hamper for delivery or forgoing a home-cooked meal in favour of a chef-prepared feast from Michelin-starred restaurant HIDE,.
For others, it might mean tuning in to one of the Borough Market Online Easter Food Festival events or decorating windows with Passover decorations for other neighbourhood children to discover when out on a walk or bike ride.
For others it might mean ‘sharing ideas about the meaning of Passover”, by “sending it in writing and reading it on each night, or sending it in a video message or in Zoom,” as London Rabbi Reuven Bulka tells us. But regardless of what they do, it is clear people are getting creative and looking for ways to make this year a positive memory rather than a negative one.
The Human Experience (HX) Learnings?
The upcoming holidays will come and go, and likely return to “normal” next year, but we will all be forever changed by this unique experience we’re going through together.
So whether you’re skipping the holidays this year, celebrating like you always have or trying something new (like the makeshift seder plate of cupboard supplies and international FaceTime I did), take this opportunity to better connect not only to yourself and your family, but your community as well — recognising that however different we may seem on the surface, we are all human. We face similar challenges and struggles and share the same set of values and motivations: safety, control, meaning, connection, pleasure, to name a few.
And no matter what happens in the world around us, these will remain constant as fundamental, immutable human truths. So, in these stressful times, and beyond, remember to always have empathy, be supportive, champion connection and celebrate humanity.
Liz Thompson is an associate director at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. She is an insight-led, human-centric strategist who uses her interest and passion for understanding consumer behaviour to spot new business & innovation opportunities.