Toronto-area rabbi pleads for physical distancing during Passover

A Toronto-area rabbi is pleading for Jews observing Passover to stay at home and practise physical distancing.

Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, spiritual leader and executive director at Chabad Flamingo in Thornhill, Ont., posted a video to YouTube this week with a firm message to those of the Jewish faith.

“There is absolutely no permission, no right and no reason to for anyone to be violating the social distancing laws that have been put in place,” he said in the video, referencing the physical distancing measures urged by officials to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking to Global News on Wednesday, Kaplan remained firm that gatherings beyond immediate family should be out of the question this year.

“The best way we can honour our faith is by staying alive,” he said.

“We the Jewish people are survivors. We’ve survived so much persecution and so much difficulty and here it’s an invisible enemy.”

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It’s a directive that Barbara Searle’s family is taking seriously. They are forgoing their annual, cross-province family gathering for an at-home affair without extended family.

“My mom who is on her own — she’s a senior — she will be in her own house by herself,” she said.

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Her daughter, Jamie, said she understands the need to separate, but misses how it used to be.

“It’s a little upsetting for me because we never really see our whole family together and I really like going to Passover,” she said.

For Boris Flisfeder it will be a different Passover, too. He is also observing without his mother.

“She’s 85 years old and I’m kind of afraid to see her,” he said.

Anna Shternshis, a professor at the University of Toronto and the director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies, said that as Jewish people across the Greater Toronto Area come to terms with the reality of Passover this year, it is important to keep in mind that it is a chance to better appreciate the freedoms gained — and recently lost.

“In a matter of weeks we all lost a lot of things that we understood as being free,” she said.

“To be free to meet with your family, to be free to hug your friends.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed the message to stay home in Passover greetings posted to Twitter.

“I know this will be hard, especially in times of celebration, but we need to continue this practice in order to protect our families and loved ones,” he said in a video message.

It’s a point Rabbi Kaplan can’t repeat enough.

“It is still critically important that we do the best we can in a way that preserves life and ensures the people are safe, healthy and secure,” he said.

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