Places of worship finding new ways to connect with members during upcoming celebrations

Coronavirus

CLEVELAND (WJW) — Christians, Muslims and Jewish people are approaching significant annual holidays — some parts of which involve connecting with loved ones.

In light of the pandemic, many of these traditional gatherings are becoming virtual and religious leaders are finding themselves giving thanks to the internet.

Normally a large gathering of the extended family, many Passover seders will be held virtually though some who cannot use technology on the holiday have thought of other solutions like a second celebration after the threat is over. 

“The ability to connect with people during this time of adversity has been something that is very unique,” said J. David Heller, Board of Trustees Chair for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland has online resources for live-streamed seders, as well as globalizing the holiday with shared recipes from Cleveland to Israel to Russia.

“Our responsibility is to share the story of our people and to share it in maybe a different way than we have in the past,” said Heller.

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has been streaming mass during holy week and will do so on Easter on their Facebook page and on TV on FOX 8.

“It certainly is going to be different by not being able to gather together as a community. That’s what we do,” said Fr. Don Oleksiak, a diocesan administrator.

They and other parishes have helped make mass available in several languages. 

“I think that’s the most important thing we can do is stay connected to one another,” he said.

While noting the absence of technology for some in their community, Oleksiak says he’s been inspired by the creative ways parishes are connecting and helping their congregations.

The Islamic Center of Cleveland is also streaming prayer services and utilizing other technologies to reach their community. 

“We have an ancient religion but it uses all sorts of modern technology,” said Imam Hamzah Maqbul. “We’re trying to make sure that from mental health services to ritual practice to even the kids’ Quran classes where they learn to read Arabic and things like that is shifted online as much as is possible.”

The center launched a new phone app for useful announcements and prayer resources as well.

With Ramadan starting at the end of April, celebratory break-fasts or Iftar, will be different. Maqbul encourages the faithful to look within at this time.

“It’s not even about you and other people, although that’s a positive thing under normal circumstances in this case we really don’t have access. It’s around a persons’ link with their creator,” he said.

While a painful time for many, religious leaders say the pandemic has in a way breathed new life into their holidays and brought a time for reflection.

They also acknowledge the role they and their institutions play in the community.

“It’s a time where we have allocated resources to take care of the most needy in our society,” says Heller.

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