An Overview By Rabbi David Kosak

Our Different Night—Passover 5780

Passover is one of our beloved Jewish holidays. It is rich with history, symbolism, meaning and philosophy. This year, that symbolism carries even greater significance. Although the Israelites were spared from the impact of the ten plagues that the Torah and the haggadah recount, that is not our story this year. We are all interconnected by a global pandemic. Our Sages long ago connected Egypt, Mitzrayim, with a similar-sounding word for narrow places, the meitzarim. This year, we all find ourselves in these meitzarim, confined to our homes.

Chaza’l, those same Sages, said that one of the reasons we were worthy of being saved and redeemed from slavery was because we kept three things intact: our names, our clothing and our language. In other words, by maintaining our distinctiveness, we also preserved our national identity and thus understood that we were destined for freedom and a destiny different than the conditions we found ourselves in.

I find this old teaching fruitful to think about this year. Some of the lessons gleaned are connected to Passover; others are a good reminder for all people. For example, during this time those of us who are still fortunate enough to be employed are working primarily from home. There can be a temptation to work in pajamas and a bathrobe, or to only dress professionally from the waist up. Yet mainstream psychological advice is to dress normally and to maintain a routine.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, small acts like this allow us to express our freedom even as we are confined at home. Such acts are a statement of spritual resistance, by which we say, yes, COVID-19 may confine our bodies, but it can not limit our commitments to personal dignity, Jewish values or our celebration of Pesach. Our clothing, our language and our names.


Passover During COVID-19

This notion of small acts is crucial. I have heard from some people that they have considered not having a seder. They feel that there is too much disruption going on, or that the seder wouldn’t be meaningful because family members who regularly attend can’t. Others, who have never had the responsibility to lead a seder, feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those concerns are quite understandable. This year, everyone is struggling with feelings of being uprooted and confined. We all feel somewhat caged at home. While we should never play down the unique traumas of chattel slavery by false comparisons, it is also not an exaggeration to note how greatly our freedoms have been curtailed by a small virus.

And that is why Passover is more important than ever. Celebrating it is more than a small act. To be a Jew, after all, is to read the meaning and the challenges of our lives through the lens of historical experience. In 1998, Rabbi Harold Schulweiss called Passover the “master story” of the Jewish people and our religion. I don’t know if he is the source for that phrase, but the insight remains.

This year, as you observe the seder, I hope the sections of the seder will help you reflect on how you are experiencing your life.

You might want to consider asking:

  1. What are the ten plagues of COVID-19? For each significant loss it causes is like a plague.
  2. Yachatz, the breaking of the matzoh, reminds us of our own brokenness. How are you feeling broken, and in what way can you respond to the brokenness all around us?
  3. Dayenu—for what are you grateful this year? When is enough, enough during this time to feel that you are not alone? How might you view the blessings you still have as a sign of redemption?


Keep it Simple: Observe Pesach During the COVID Plague

This year, it is appropriate to do the minimum necessary to prepare for Passover. Cleaning your entire house is not necessary. Instead, focus on the kitchen, and make sure you nullify additional hametz with the prayer found in the beginning of most haggadot.

Put the rest of your unused hametz (food items made from wheat, oats, barley, rye or spelt, even if these ingredients appear in the smallest possible amount.) in a closet and sell those items to me.

The Rabbinical Assembly is encouraging all Conservative Jews to eat kitniyot this year (pulses, legumes, rice, etc) to ease observance and reduce financial hardship. I also believe we need to limit financial outlays when employment is lost or uncertain.

In this regard:

  1. Purchase tofu, rice and beans before the holiday.
  2. All unflavored coffee, black, green and white teas are acceptable—including decaffeinated. For those interested in the reasoning, please see the bottom of this message.*
  3. Opened spices that would otherwise be ok for Passover consumption are acceptable to use this year. One does not need to purchase new, unopened spices.


This year, you can click here for the Rabbinical Assembly’s Pesach Guide for 2020/5780.


Let me wish you all a happy, meaningful and kosher Passover.

A Zissen Pesach,

Rav D


*Decaffeinated Coffee and Tea

While the RA still does not permit unhekshered decaffeinated coffee and tea for Passover, I hold it is permissible when purchased before the holiday begins. Below are the reasons for that decision. When creating a leniency of this sort, it is important that this does not occur in isolation; I vetted this with one of the three top poskim, or religious decisors, in the movement who agrees with my conclusions.

  1. The chemicals used to decaffeinate coffee or tea (ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, CO2 and water) are not themselves food items–EVEN IF SOURCED FROM CHAMETZ BASED INGREDIENTS.
  2. They do not therefore qualify as achilat kelev—food suitable for a dog. This is the minimum requirement for something to be considered food and therefore subject to kashrut restrictions.
  3. The chemicals are not davar ma’amid–they are not necessary or intended to remain in the decaffeinated coffee, in the way that rennet or gelatin is.
  4. The manufacturers don’t want the ingredient to remain, they merely wish to sell decaffeinated coffee or tea. So should these ingredients remain after processing, they are nullified by the manufacturers intentions.
  5. The chemicals used are targeted, as best as science permits, to the caffeine, and not other flavor elements, and it is the caffeine that is being removed.
  6. The chemicals themselves, if formed from hametz-based ingredients, are themselves davar chadash, or a new substance, and thus can’t in any way be considered as chametz.
  7. An observant Jew who purchases decaffeinated coffee or tea BEFORE Pesach also would not wish any slight remaining ingredient to be present, and it would thus be nullified by the buyer’s intention of batel b’shishim.

Shtar Harsha’ah: Document of Authorization for the Sale of Hametz

Passover 5780: Information

Second Night *Virtual* Community Seder – Thursday, April 9, 6:00pm
Join Rabbi Posen for a ZOOM Second Night Seder. Please sign up to let us know you’ll join us virtually for a fun and interactive Seder. RSVP and we’ll send you the link for the Haggadah to download and the link for the Zoom call, and you’ll be all set to celebrate in community. Click here for more detailed information.

Seder & Virtual Seder Tips & Resources with Mel Berwin & Rivi (Jennifer) Antick
TONIGHT! Tuesday, March 31, 7:00-8:30pm

Are you leading a Seder for the first time because you usually celebrate with friends or family? Are you leading or joining a Seder on Zoom or online for the first time?  Join Director of Congregational Learning Mel Berwin, and CNS Member Rivi (Jennifer) Antick for a Q&A session.

We’re not experts at Virtual Seders– in fact we’ve never led a seder on Zoom before!– but both of us are planning a Virtual Seder this year and have led plenty of Seders in the past, with all ages and numbers of guests, so we have plenty of ideas and tips to help you think through what you’re planning for this Passover.

  • 7:00-7:45pm Q&A on Leading a Seder– ideas and resources for all ages and numbers of guests
  • 7:45-8:30pm Q&A on Leading a Virtual Seder– ideas and resources to help with the tech side

Email Mel Berwin to RSVP and receive the Zoom link:

From Miriam to Midge: A Woman’s Journey to Liberation – Thursday, April 2, 6:00pm

Join Rabbi Eve and the women of CNS to explore the central themes of Passover from a personal perspective. Through art, written word, and conversation we’ll use our own experiences to delve into the themes of liberation, freedom and progress. We hope you’ll lend your (virtual) presence to a gathering of women of all ages and stages for a wonderful evening. Please click here to register.
Zidell Chapel CNS

Morning Minyan and “Siyyum”
Wednesday, April 8, 7:00am – Morning Minyan; 7:30am – Siyyum
On the morning of the Pesach seder, first born children are required to fast in commemoration of the first born Egyptians who lost their life during the tenth plague. Our fasting beautifully demonstrates our compassion even for our enemies. That said, we have another tradition to mark when we complete a book of Jewish learning with a celebratory meal. This “siyyum” overrides the fast for those who attend the study session. Eric and Rivi Antick Oslund will be leading the Siyyum for Fast of the First Born after services on Wednesday, April 8th. Morning minyan at 7 am, siyyum study at approximately 7:30

CNS Passover Home Hospitality Virtual Seders – Host or Be Hosted! Seders – Wednesday, April 8
Need a place to celebrate a virtual Pesach seder? Interested in sharing your virtual seder for someone in the community that would like to take part in Pesach with your family? Please contact Membership and Engagement Director, Michelle Caplan, to get connected:

Passover Service Information

Candle lighting: 4/14: 7:39pm | 4/15: 8:40pm | 4/16: 8:44pm

*Office Closed

Get the latest news and updates from Congregation Neveh Shalom