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Jews Are Celebrating Passover – Hospitalized with COVID-19, Or Not

Even with abnormal hospital restrictions, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is ensuring Jews can still have a seder.

Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”

April 6, 2020
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Passover is going to be different this year for many people, including those in hospitals. In Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has had to adjust its guidelines for the holiday in order to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The new rules apply to all patients — whether or not they’re infected.

Senior Rabbi and Director of the Cedars-Sinai spiritual care department Jason Weiner told the Journal, “Normally, people’s loved ones come and guide them through [the seder], but this year there are no visitors allowed. People are making it on their own so I can see how it can be depressing and scary. We’re going to have to help people prep for it. It’ll be difficult.”

One of the ways Cedars-Sinai is doing this is by giving patients their own seder plate and things to help them create their own seder, including a haggadah and matzo. They’re also broadcasting a seder on the televisions in patients’ rooms before the start of the holiday.

In the past, a Torah could have been carried from room to room, or patients could put on tefillin. This year, however, that can’t be done. “We are extra cautious not to pass anything from one patient to another to ensure that we don’t hurt patients more than we are trying to help them,” Weiner said.

“We’re recognizing that people need a little extra attention and TLC. They need to develop coping mechanisms, whether it’s through meditation, reading, reflection, prayers or ritual. Sometimes the seder can help people to transcend the walls of the hospital.” — Rabbi Jason Weiner

And while the hospital’s chapel is not locked down, Weiner said there are only a few chairs, spaced very far apart. Instead of having patients congregate there like they used to, all of the chapel programming — which includes classes and services — are being broadcast live throughout the hospital and in all patient rooms. Only Weiner, or the person leading each service or class, will be in the chapel. He also will call some patients by phone or pray outside their room, instead of visiting them in their rooms.

Kosher for Passover meals will be prepared in the hospital’s kosher kitchen, and Weiner will visit patients’ rooms to ensure they are set up before the holiday and to answer any questions. Some patients, he said, may choose to make phone calls or use Zoom during the seder.

On Shabbat during Passover, patients will receive special Passover Shabbat kits, which will include extra grape juice and a Kiddush cup. However, Weiner said COVID-19 patients won’t receive them, for their own safety. And although Weiner won’t be working normal hours during the holiday, he will be checking in from time to time. “Patients need someone to listen to and talk to, especially when visitors aren’t allowed,” he said.

Because the first two days of Passover run into Shabbat this year and observant Jews won’t use technology to connect with their families, Weiner said, as a result, “People are anxious. Normally, people walk over and visit on Shabbat or yom tov, but now you can’t walk in. Patients have to go a long time without hearing from their loved ones.”

As for himself, Weiner said he’s been taking precautions. “It’s certainly scary this year, and I am carefully trying to balance my responsibility to the patients and my need to protect my family and not bring anything contagious home.”

And although Passover will be even more challenging for patients this year, Weiner said there are ways they can get through it, and they should use the self-care techniques that work for them.

“We’re recognizing that people need a little extra attention and TLC,” he said. “They need to develop coping mechanisms, whether it’s through meditation, reading, reflection, prayers or ritual. Sometimes the seder can help people to transcend the walls of the hospital.”

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