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The West Houston rabbi discusses the importance of Easter amid the pandemic




With Easter just around the corner, Rabbi Gideon Estes is preparing to host a virtual Municipal Seder for members and guests of his synagogue.

It is hard to believe that people have been facing the pandemic for a year. But he says members of the Or Ami Congregation west of Houston have been patient.

“I think one thing this last year has taught us is that the really important aspect of houses of worship like synagogues is that there is still a place for community and connection,” Estes said. “So we are using technological tools to maintain it.”

Or Ami has been running virtual services since the pandemic started in Houston last March. Estes hopes to switch to hybrid services at some point in the future, with some people participating in person and others participating online. For now, Zoom services continue to meet Friday evening and Saturday morning.

Easter takes place on Saturday, March 27, until Sunday, April 4. Or Ami members will be attending Municipal Seder, the second night through Zoom at 6:30 pm Sunday, March 28th. Traditionally, the synagogue hosts a large municipal Seder every other year. This year, it will be online. The Zoom service is open to anyone registered in advance.

Participating members and guests will receive in advance the Easter kits with a Haggadah, the text to be read to those in need, as well as some Easter food.

Estes said the service will reap the benefits of technology, with rescue rooms where people can engage in more intimate discussions and pictures that will encourage meaningful conversation.

One advantage of a Zoom Seder Estes marked is that people from distant lands will be able to come together to celebrate Easter with their families and friends. Over the past year, Este’s mother in California has been able to attend Friday services at Or Ami almost every week.

Seder is a meal, but it literally means “okay.” It is the most practiced ritual in Judaism and goes through the Haggadah, which is “telling” the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

As ancient history shows, the Jews came from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. During a famine, Jacob and his family went to Egypt for help. Later, the Egyptians enslaved the Jews for 400 years while shouting for deliverance. God heard their prayers and sent Moses, who removed them from bondage after the plagues the Lord sent upon the Egyptians, all through the Lord’s “mighty hand and outstretched arm,” Estes said.

Seder walks the Jews through 15 story boards and helps them internalize life as enslaved and then free. Estes believes this will be true for people this year as the world has started working to get out of a year of slavery.

“We can see the way to that freedom of liberation, of a kind of transition,” he said. “As long as all people are vaccinated and continue to do some safety practices a little longer, then hopefully soon we will be able to resume better types of life.”

Estes explained that the Passover story reminds Jews to seek out those who are struggling because they themselves understand suffering, Estes said. To that end, the Or Ami Congregation is supporting food banks.

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