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Passover's disruption by Covid-19 brings Seder in a Box

Brenda Feldstein calls Passover "the Jewish holiday I cherish the most, the one we've always celebrated with so many family members and friends."

But Covid-19 social distancing, stay-at-home admonishments and quarantines will prevent group celebrations this Passover.

That worried Rabbi Laizer Labkovski of the Jewish Discovery Center in Amherst. So he came up with the idea of Seder in a Box — a package of all the essential items needed to put on a Seder for small groups and those who will be alone.

The center has taken more than a hundred orders so far, most of them for one or two people.

Labkovski said he knows many Jews, especially young people, who have never put on a Seder themselves. And older people, he said, always had family to help prepare the food.

"I was thinking about the people who will be at home that all other years either went to a community Seder or one with family," he said. "Someone in the family always knew what to do, and everyone joined along," Labkovski said.

But for those unfamiliar with the ritual, he said, "I felt there must be some way to get to these people a full Seder box."

Labkovski expects 200 to 300 orders by the Sunday order deadline. Delivery or pick-up at the center, located at 757 Hopkins Road, will be Tuesday.

Providing the food and the structure for celebrating Passover comes as a special gift to many.

"We feel cared, we feel loved, and we feel supported," Feldstein said. "We feel connected in this very difficult time."

As a volunteer for the Jewish Discovery Center's Kosher Meals on Wheels, she's used to seeing the gratitude of people receiving meals.

Now, she said, she'll be on the receiving end.

"I'm on the other side right now with the meal in a box," Feldstein said.

The Jewish Discovery Center is not charging for the packages, though sponsorships are available on the website.

Detail of some of the items included in the Seder in a Box arranged at the Jewish Discovery Center to make the traditional items used for Passover available during the Covid-19 crisis. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Inside the box will be handmade shmurah matzah, grape juice, a Kiddush cup, the Haggadah book that's read aloud and Passover Seder Guide.

For the customary Seder plate, horseradish, egg, bone, lettuce, a vegetable and haroset will be provided. The meal offers gefilte fish, chicken soup, green salad, oven baked chicken or brisket, herb roasted potatoes and tzimmes, a sweet stew.

Individual dishes are also available a la carte.

"Together you will get a full holiday meal," said Labkovski, a father of 12 who will celebrate Passover with his immediate family.

A Seder involves reading aloud and singing songs of emancipation from Egyptian slavery while eating foods imbued with historical meaning. The eight-day holiday begins Wednesday evening.

The effort is being supported by Jewish Family Service and the Buffalo Jewish Federation.

The food is being prepared in the Jewish Discovery Center kitchen and packaged in a larger downstairs room by staff and volunteers who will wear masks and gloves and practice social distancing, Labkovski said.

People can choose meals for one or two nights, since a Seder can be held on the first two nights of Passover.

"It's very satisfying in such a difficult time, with people going through hardship, to give them some joy," Labkovski said.

"I have got calls from many people in senior housing who were worried about not being able to do a Seder," he said. "They were really thankful and joyous that this will be available for them."

It's a big help to Sol Messinger, who would normally be with family for Passover but will by necessity be alone this year.

"This is going to make it much easier for me to have a real Seder, and not have to shop for certain things like horseradish," Messinger said.

Robert Kapchan said it would have been hard to pull off Passover at his home without receiving the Kosher food, items for the Passover plate and the Haggadah to lead the service.

The service will bring added comfort, Kapchan said, because of the coronavirus and other issues in the world.

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