Sunday, January 16th | 14 Shevat 5782

April 8, 2020 9:54 am

Israelis Mark Passover, a Celebration of Freedom, in Virtual Isolation

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Border policemen chat with a driver at a roadblock set up as part of efforts to enforce a national lockdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on a road leading to Jerusalem, near Ein Hemed, Israel, April 7, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

The Jewish Passover holiday typically draws crowds of Israelis outside to burn heaps of leavened bread, commemorating the Biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt.

But on Wednesday a tightened coronavirus lockdown meant the streets of Jerusalem and other cities were nearly empty on the first day of the week-long holiday, when they would normally be dotted with fires and columns of smoke.

Israel this week imposed special holiday restrictions to try to halt the spread of the disease.

Jews may only celebrate the traditional “Seder” meal that kicks off the April 8-15 holiday season with immediate family.

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And travel between cities is banned until Friday, with roadblocks erected at main junctions leading from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

A full curfew was due to take effect on Wednesday at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT), just before the Seder begins, and will last until Thursday morning. This prompted a dash for last-minute shopping, which saw long lines of Israelis wearing face masks outside grocery stores.

Some areas found workarounds to keep festive traditions alive in a month that will also see Christians celebrate Easter and Muslims mark the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

The Jerusalem municipality on Wednesday collected leavened products from designated dumpsters outside peoples’ homes and took them away to be burned in a large open area on the city’s outskirts.

A rabbi accompanied by a firefighter tossed a long, fire-tipped stick onto a patch of flammable liquid leading to a pile of the leavened bread products, many of them still in plastic bags, engulfing the mound in smoke and flames.

One Jerusalem man, Daniel Arusti, disposed of a paper bread box in one of the dumpsters outside of his house, instead of gathering with his ultra-Orthodox community to burn it in public.

“Next year … when there will hopefully be no (coronavirus) threat, we’ll be able to come and redo public burning of chametz (leavened bread) together, as we should,” Arusti said.

Throughout Passover, Jews abide by special dietary laws which include eating unleavened bread known as matzo.

The tradition marks a Book of Exodus tale that the Jews did not have time to prepare leavened bread before leaving for the Promised Land.

Unable to gather in person, some Israelis plan to hold the Seder with friends and extended family online by video conferencing platforms.

The holiday restrictions added to anti-virus measures that had already seen Israelis largely confined to their homes, forcing many businesses to close and sending unemployment to 25%.

Israel has reported more than 9,400 cases and at least 71 deaths from COVID-19, according to Health Ministry data.

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